An Open Letter to Internet-Based Advertisers

Dear Advertisers,

Please revise your approach.

I’m sure you’re probably wondering how it is that you put billions of dollars into advertising on some of the most popular websites in the world and yet don’t seem to get nearly the return that you’ve always gotten through, for instance, television and radio commercials. I can explain. The reason is extremely simple: you are annoying. Annoying does not sell. Let me clarify.

When you force us to watch a two-minute advertisement before we can watch the one-minute video clip that we clicked on, that’s annoying.

When you have your ad pop up over top of the content that we’re trying to read, that’s annoying.

When you sneak ads right into the middle of the content we’re trying to read, so that we lose our flow and have to scan the page to find where the content continues, that’s annoying.

When you pay search engines to make sure that your website is the first result regardless of the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with what we searched for, that’s annoying.

When you have audio ads blare through our speakers the second we open your website, and hide the ad in the darkest corner of the page so that the only way we can stop the onslaught is to turn off our speakers, that’s annoying.

When you use information gathered from social sites to aim ads at us by trying to be cute and doing things like plastering our names on t-shirts (“It’s a TRACEY thing!”), that’s annoying, and also pretty condescending, for the record.

Put simply, pretty much everything you do on the internet is painfully, tear-jerkingly, fist-through-the-computer-screen level annoying, and that’s why it doesn’t work. When your ad blocks what I’m trying to view, screams through my speakers, or implies that I’m an idiot (“It’s a Tracey thing”? Seriously?) it does not endear me to your company. It does not make me want to buy your product. It makes me – and billions of people around the world just like me – want to avoid your products for the rest of my life so that maybe you’ll go bankrupt and not be able to afford anymore ridiculous, goddamn, annoying ads.

Hey, I get it. The internet is a huge opportunity for hocking your wares, and you want to take advantage of that. But maybe be a little smarter (and a lot less annoying) about it. When I finish reading a book I always check out the little ads that they put in the back for other books that the author has written…that’s effective marketing. But if those ads were right in the middle of a chapter, I’d be extremely annoyed that the flow of the story was ruined and be significantly more likely to avoid that publisher from then on. We’re all used to commercials on television and they don’t bother us so much because TV shows are edited to allow for the short breaks that commercials fill, but can you imagine the outrage that would happen if a car commercial started playing half an hour into a big blockbuster film playing in theaters? Knowing that, would it be so terrible to put your annoying ads at the end of the online videos that we’re trying to watch? Off to the side somewhere of the articles we’re trying to read? And maybe, just maybe, try to avoid the whole “social media information gathering” nonsense that just gives us the impression that you must think we’re all mindless spenders who would buy any stupid piece of crap with our names on it?

Again: annoying does not sell. We may be a society of consumers, but we will still actively avoid consuming things that piss us off.

Please revise your approach.

An Abundance of Disenchantment

I have a confession to make: I’m becoming disenchanted with The Artist’s Way.

I still plan to continue the program…I want to be able to say that I finished it…but the past couple of weeks have been difficult for me to swallow, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, do you remember me speaking kindly of the author when I first began reading the book, because she believes in God and the spirituality of creativity, but also insists that you don’t have to believe in God for the program to be helpful? Yeah…I thought that was great when I first read it, because us atheists are creative people to, but it seems as though the author forgot about this proclamation as the book went on. For example, week number 6 is about “recovering a sense of abundance”, and the “abundance” that the author is talking about in the first half of the chapter is “abundance as provided by God”. At this point in the book she seems to have completely given up on the moniker, “The Great Creator” and just regularly talks about God all the time. Specifically, in this chapter, she talks about money and how we worry about it so much (especially because of the “starving artist” image), but if we just accept that God wants us to be happy and successful, He will provide for us.

Now, if you believe in God, that’s all well and good. I can see how someone who truly believes in a higher power could take these lessons and gain something special from them.

But if you don’t believe in God, it starts to sound like so much hooey. It makes it very difficult to push through the chapters when you’re gritting your teeth and your eye is twitching every two seconds because the author keeps insisting that an almighty being you don’t believe in is going to magically make sure that everything you do works out in the end.

I have nothing against anyone who believes in that, but I don’t, so it makes the book a little difficult to read.

In addition to that whopper, I’m finding myself getting a little bored with the book because the tasks are starting to all look the same. In fact, some of them are exactly the same. For instance, do you remember the “Imaginary Lives” post I wrote a while back as one of the exercises? That exact same exercise has popped up in two more chapters. Literally, the exact same exercise. Lots of the other tasks are similar as well, basically asking you to look at the same issues over and over, answer the same questions over and over, and take the same ideas into consideration over and over. The author dresses things up by, for instance, asking you to find pictures or drawings to illustrate a particular point…but it’s still the same point that you dealt with in the previous chapter.

With all that said and done, I will however admit that there are still parts of the book that are clinging to my interest. For instance, in this “abundance” chapter, after the several pages talking about how God will provide, the author goes on to talk about “luxury”…specifically, how we tend to deny it of ourselves.

Luxury, in this case, does not mean expensive trips, a new car, or season tickets to a popular sports team’s games. It can mean anything, from the very small to the very large, that we deny ourselves for a number of reasons. One of the ones that rang out for me (because it’s so common these days) is time. We deny ourselves the luxury of time. We say that we can’t have a moment’s rest because of all the work we have to do. We say that we can’t have five minutes to ourselves because we have to deal with the kids. We say that we don’t have time for that because oh my god look at my to-do list, it’s three miles long!!! In reality, we could have a bit of time to ourselves if we were willing to look for it, or willing to do what it takes to obtain it. We can set the least important of our tasks aside for a day in order to take a nice long bath. We can pawn the kids off on a friend or relative every now and then in order to have some alone time. We have the time, we just need to see it, grab it, and force ourselves to use it, which is something that we naturally rebel against because, oh hey, it’s the Virtue Trap again!

Other luxuries might be little things that we shy away from because we feel we shouldn’t be wasting money on them. For instance, someone may love blueberries, but never buy them because they’re so expensive. In reality, that few dollars is probably not going to make a difference in the long run, so it’s worth it to give yourself a little ray of sunshine. But we deny ourselves these little things because we have a disproportionate sense of how luxury affects us. We’ll spend lots of money on things that don’t really matter to us just because society tells us that’s what we should spend our money on (lots of people spend thousands every year on satellite tv to watch two or three shows), but we deny ourselves the little things that we could spend a few bucks on to make ourselves happy (the twice-the-cost super-silky shower gel that feels so awesome and makes you feel like a million bucks).

We could all stand to have a little luxury in our lives; little things that perk us up and give us a little shot of happy in our lives. What could you give yourself today that you normally deny yourself? What little thing could you pick up for yourself that would make your day a little brighter? Go get it! Go get it right now!

Things I Know About Kids – Learning

First, I feel I should point out that I have done no real research on the topic of learning capabilities in small children, nor have I read any research done by others. What I know I’ve learned from my own daughter, and to a lesser extent my niece and the children we see at playgroup.

With that aside, what I know is that we as a society have a bad habit of underestimating small children. We follow guidelines that tell us what skills our kids should know and by when, we buy age-specific toys based on assessments made by the companies who designed them, and we get upset if our kids haven’t learned a specific skill by a specific time, even if they’ve become quite advanced in a different skill in the meantime.

In other words, we group all children together, expecting them to learn and grow at the same rate, and limiting them by focusing on only the skills we’re told they should have by now. I personally think this is very silly because, while you shouldn’t push your children to “learn learn learn learn learn!!!” you should always encourage them to go further and further.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter has a wooden alphabet puzzle. The back of the puzzle board states that the puzzle is for ages 3 and up. At the time we purchased the puzzle I thought that “ages 3 and up” couldn’t possibly refer to any kind of safety issue because the puzzle pieces are quite large, and a quick examination showed that there is no way the pegs could possibly become disconnected. When the safety check was all clear we gave our daughter the puzzle to play with…at the time she was just under a year old. Yes, we gave our one year old a toy that someone, somewhere, decided was meant for three year olds and up. We weren’t pushing the learning toy on her, and we certainly didn’t expect giving it to her to make her a genius or anything; we just figured it was a good, educational toy that she’d enjoy playing with. But here’s the thing…she caught on pretty fast. It only took her a few weeks to be able to locate where the pieces went, and by the time she was just under a year and a half old we had her telling us what all the letters were as she was doing the puzzle. It didn’t take long after that for her to understand that letters naturally went in a particular order, and if I wrote down letters she’d tell me which ones came next.

There were other factors that contributed to her success, of course… For one thing we took the time to sit with her and tell her what all the letters were. For another she also regularly watched a Sesame Street special that teaches kids the alphabet. But the point of the story is that if we had set the puzzle aside, assuming that she wouldn’t be able to understand it until she was at least three years old, she might not have caught on to the alphabet so soon. If we took it upon ourselves to assume that the Sesame Street special was too advanced for her, she wouldn’t be THIS close to being able to sing the whole alphabet song at less than two and a half years old (imagine me holding my fingers a few millimeters apart).

Again, I’m not saying my kid is a genius, but I can absolutely say with certainty that she has advanced faster than expected because we don’t hold back teaching her new things just because she’s still young. We make sure her toys are safe, and if we buy her something meant for older kids (Ninja Turtles action figures and My Little Pony sets come to mind) we make sure to remove any small pieces she might decide to swallow for fun. Once those two things have been accomplished, we let her play with what she’s interested in, and we encourage her to learn new things. In fact, she and her soon-to-be-four-year-old cousin can work my Samsung Galaxy Tab2 better than some adults I know.

Kids are sponges, they really are. We regularly take this into consideration when taking care not to transfer bad habits, but we rarely think about it when considering teaching and learning practices. Encourage your kid to learn, and (as long as safety permits) let them decide what toys and programs are appropriate for their age group. They’ll thank you for it later.

If You’d Just THINK For a Moment…

The more I hear about the changes that are coming to the Canadian EI system, the more frustrated I get. And it’s not even the changes themselves that are making me the most angry (though there’s definitely some rage there); it’s the comments I keep hearing from people who support the changes, or think the changes should be even harsher. The most common comment I’ve heard is that Atlantic Canadians (and our seasonal workers in particular) are lazy bums sponging off the system several months a year, and that we should be forced to suck it up and either get a job flipping burgers or move out West for work.

Funny how sure of themselves are these people who have stable jobs and don’t have to deal with being regularly unemployed themselves. They’re so angry about people “abusing” the system that they pay for (uh, hello, the same people “abusing” the system pay EI premiums too, you know) that they don’t stop to think for a moment about some of the comments they’re making.

A few points, if you will:

– Yes, our seasonal workers (fishermen, tourism workers, agriculturists, etc) “sponge” off the system every year. That’s because their jobs, the jobs they’ve worked all their lives and are trained for, don’t enable them to work 12 months out of the year. I’ve heard so many comments about how those people should “look for other work then, if their jobs are so unsteady”. And that is one of the most ridiculously stupid things I’ve ever heard. If all the fishermen suddenly packed up and said, “You know what? We should go find a job that’s available all year through” who the hell would catch your fish?! Like it or not, seasonal work is required work. Those seasonal workers catch your fish, harvest your crops, cut your lumber, and a host of other things that need doing. Cut them out of the equation and you create a massive deficit in freakin’ society.

– “Okay, so don’t make them find new jobs, but force them to take other jobs during the off months!” Do you really think that’s so easy? First of all, most of these seasonal workers are only trained in the job they do. In order to find a secondary job that pays them at least closed to what they make normally, they would need to be trained in something. Who is going to pay to train them? Do you remember what college costs? Because it’s gone up. A lot. The EI changes that are coming will put no money into helping retrain the unemployed. So where is that money going to come from? Believe it or not, not everyone can afford to just say, “Hey, I think I’ll go back to college so I can work two jobs a year.”

– “Okay, screw a career, just make them work at McDonald’s in the off months!” Oh, you sad, sorry little person. There are currently tens of thousands of seasonal workers in Nova Scotia. Do you honestly believe that there are tens of thousands of unskilled jobs just sitting around waiting to be filled? Particularly in Nova Scotia? Because if you do, I’ll pray for your sanity if you ever lose your job. It hasn’t been very long since I was a college student looking for part-time work to help pay my tuition, so I know what it’s like. It’s not uncommon to hand out a hundred resumes before getting one interview (and that’s in the cities, not the super-rural areas many of us live in). And I’m going to explain something to you right now: minimum wage employers like fast food joints and department stores don’t want to hire you if they know you’re going to be leaving for another job in a few months. Why would McDonald’s want to hire a fisherman and spend a bunch of money training him, knowing that he’s going to leave to go back to fishing in a few short months? Minimum wage employers don’t want to deal with that nonsense anymore than any other employer would. Turnover at those places is bad enough without hiring people that they know for sure aren’t sticking around for very long. And as previously mentioned, even if some seasonal workers do manage to pick up these types of jobs, there aren’t enough available for everyone. To think that there are is complete and utter folly. If there were that many minimum wage jobs just sitting around, students wouldn’t have such a hard time finding part-time and summer jobs.
The entire thing, in my opinion (and many other people’s opinions) smacks of trying to force as many people out west as possible. If seasonal workers (and others who claim EI regularly for other reasons) are forced to take jobs outside their pay grade (and yes, 70% of what you’re used to is significantly reduced pay when you’re fixed into things like mortgages and vehicle loans), then they’re going to start looking at greener pastures, which seems to be exactly what the feds want. The West will continue to grow and prosper, while the East steadily collapses. The more people who head out to the oil sands for better-paying work, the less money that will be spent in Nova Scotia, the higher our taxes will rise, and so on and so forth. And to all you people who support the changes, you who have steady, well-paying jobs and never have to rely on EI yourselves…you can be damn sure that as the Nova Scotia economy rapidly declines, your jobs will end up in jeopardy as well.

Will you be ready and willing to take a minimum wage job or uproot your entire life to move out West?