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On Spec Work

August 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Speculative (spec) work, as defined by the No!Spec campaign, is any kind of creative work made and submitted by a designer to a prospective client/employer before securing a means of compensation. Common examples include contests for a company logo where thousands of designers submit their entries, but only one person or a small percentage will win any kind of prize. At first glance, this seems to be a win-win situation for both parties because designers publicly showcase their portfolio while clients pay the minimum to see numerous designs.

Campaigns such as No!Spec and AntiSpec argue spec work is unethical because designers who submit their entries to such contests usually lose all the rights to their work and not get paid at all. However these designers have a choice. They are aware they may not be compensated for their work and no one is forcing them to participate. If people choose to work without compensation, that is up to them and there is nothing wrong with exercising that freedom. As Nick wrote, spec work exists because people choose to participate in it.

Spec work forces designers to undercharge themselves to try and stay ahead of the competition, thus devaluing the profession. Again there is nothing wrong with this as it’s simply the reality things are valued differently. For example if I was hungry, I could choose to eat at McDonald’s for five dollars or spend fifty dollars at a more elaborate restaurant such as The Keg. If everyone didn’t value the nutritional quality a steak provides and started going to McDonald’s for food, The Keg might go out of business. We wouldn’t say it’s unethical to choose cheap food over a gourmet meal. Saying that, it’s up to the clients if they want to pay for a cheap design through spec work.

Although I agree many times it’s not in the designer’s or even the client’s best interest to participate in spec work, I do not see anything unethical about this practice. The success of sites such as Crowdspring and 99designs suggests spec work will be around and designers should find a way to adapt to the system.

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Categories: Global, Life

On Celebrities as Role Models

June 26, 2013 Leave a comment

A role model is someone who by his or her actions sets an example for others to follow. One reason we look up to other people is that modeling our behaviour after others is common. There is an evolutionary advantage to it. It is important for infants to adapt to the environment by mimicking the behaviour of others in the same setting. Furthermore psychology studies have shown we mimic others to increase the chances of their liking us and hence facilitate smoother social interactions.

Usually society looks up to celebrities as role models because they’re famous. We want to be as rich and successful as these people so it’s only natural for us to want to emulate their behaviours. They make all their money and achieve celebrity status because the public willingly pays to see them perform so they owe something back to their fans. As a consequence society demands these people to constantly behave perfectly.

Saying that, I believe celebrities don’t have any obligation to be positive role models for society. They are humans with their own shortcomings too and they have the right to pursue what makes them happy. In 2009, Chris Brown assaulted his then girlfriend Rihanna. However today, they are back together. Since then she has received a lot of criticism from the public because the message Rihanna is sending to young women (many of whom look up to her) is domestic violence is ok and it’s ok to continue dating someone who physically assaulted you. Rihanna is an autonomous individual with her own needs, desires and emotions and they should be respected as such.

Secondly their lives are very different from ordinary people since only a handful of the world’s population will become rich and famous. It would be unrealistic to expect to live the glamourous lifestyle we see celebrities enjoy today. One problem is many celebrities receive more lenient sentences (relative to the rest of society) when they break the law. This suggests to the public the consequences for committing misdemeanours are minimal. However that is a different problem involving the legal system, irrelevant to whether those people are celebrities or role models.

There is also the issue of personal responsibility where people should be taught how to think for themselves and accept the consequences of their actions. Even though celebrities have a strong influence on society, they can’t be held accountable for the actions of others. If Megan Fox wants to continue smoking marijuana or Mel Gibson continues making homophobic comments, that’s their choice. I can’t blame them if I do the same thing and find myself in trouble with other people.

Lastly for celebrities, it’s not their job to be positive role models for society. Sidney Crosby’s job is to play hockey, Brad Pitt’s job is to act and Selena Gomez’s job is to sing. They make all their money and achieve celebrity status because the public willingly pays to see them perform. When I buy a ticket to an Eminem concert, I understand I am going to listen to him rap about sex, drugs and shoving a gerbil up his own ass, not hear him give a sixty minute anti-bullying speech.

I agree with Brande Victorian not everyone is suitable to be a role model. For many people, their role models also include family members and friends. It’s not a title we automatically give simply because they share a close personal relationship with us or are constantly in the media. Being a role model is a distinction one has to earn, not forced to accept due to certain lifestyle choices and celebrities are not any different.

Categories: Global, Life

Beyond Kony – Social Media, Community, Slackivism and Tolerance

April 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Last Wednesday, I attended a discussion organized by the UBC Community United Way Campaign about the implications of the Kony campaign. The discussion was led by Dr. Chris Erickson, Victoria Capron and AJ Koehn. I was disappointed at the low attendance (do students not care about international issues?), but it was due to the lack of advertisement and there isn’t much hype around Kony now as there was last month. Funny enough I only happened to stumble upon this event by chance when I Facebook stalked a friend who couldn’t attend. I won’t talk about Kony in particular (there’s already enough discussion going around), but focus on the bigger issues that were discussed by the panel.

The panel mentioned social media is more effective at raising international issues rather than local ones. There’s a sense of distance and anonymity when you support an international cause which makes one feel “secure”. Their reason was this: Let’s say the Kony issue actually occurred locally in Vancouver (instead of Uganda) so now the problem is “in your face”. This forces you to question the system you’re currently a part of and that’s very discomforting. Now then would you be more likely to share the KONY 2012 video? I’m not convinced by that statement because I interpret that to mean it’s easier to support irrelevant (ie not related to you) causes than to draw attention to your own problems. There are probably people who think like that, but that would be an unfair generalization to use on everyone.

A problem brought up was how to get more people involved with local issues. It wasn’t much of a discussion, but more on how to get people to volunteer given from the panelists who have been involved with the community. The most important thing is to engage with other people so prospective volunteers want to seek you out. For example, you can go around and ask what events do you want, what can we fundraise, so when the time comes you need volunteers, it’s easier to go to the same people you asked. You want them to think I did that vs I was told to do that.

One panelist argued slackivism is the new form of activism and that’s a good thing. The argument is when we share a video or attend a Facebook event, we feel compelled to learn more about it and actually show up to the event. People against slackivism (anti-slackivists) are saying it’s good to have a lot of money and power since that’s the only way to exact meaningful changes. However the same system anti-slackivists challenge is built on money and power so that’s a direct contradiction.

I didn’t really understand that argument, but tried my best to restate the panel’s position on slackivism… I still maintain my stance (slackivism sucks) and here’s my rebuttal: Yes I agree when we share a video, we want to learn more about it. However it’s wrong to say that learning about an issue will always lead to one’s involvement. I also agree that when we attend a Facebook event, we feel obligated to actually come if the invite was personal. Of the thousands (or millions?) of people attending the KONY 2012 event, what percentage of them do you think will actually show up and “cover the city” with Kony posters? My theory is these events were mass sent to everyone and you probably received the same invites from several people. This means even if you click attend, you won’t feel the need to show up since there is no single person who is going to keep track of you. However if you receive a personal invite when only ten people have been invited and you click attend, you would be expected to show up.

I’m not sure how the panel came up with the idea anti-slackivists support having money and power. Buying a Kony kit isn’t slackivism (whether or not the money is going to good use is a separate issue) since collective action is powerful for catalyzing change (why else would we live in a democracy). Furthermore having a lot of money and power is a good thing. The only problem is if you achieved that position unethically or abuse it once you got there.

Although unrelated to Kony, tolerance was discussed. For example, we have had problems with homelessness and child poverty for a long time in Vancouver, but the situation still remains the same. Does that mean we have become too accepting of the homeless community (ie homeless people are a normal part of Vancouver and we can live with that)? Has Vancouver become too tolerant then and is that a bad thing? Tyler recently brought up a good point regarding tolerance and homophobia: Many people will tell you I have nothing against gay people, they’re cool people. However how many would be comfortable identifying with the social norm? This seems to be a problem it’s cool for other people to be gay, but it would be unacceptable for me to be gay. Can you consider that situation tolerance then?

Like the Occupy movement, Kony 2012 has been very successful at raising issues for people to discuss. How much conversation is enough and when do we need to move to action? Unless something changes, Kony 2012 will have the same results as the Occupy movement. The last issue the panel left us with was is it better to oversimplify facts to gain support instead of fully educating people? One criticism of the Kony 2012 video was the oversimplification of facts. If Invisible Children had been more transparent from the beginning, they wouldn’t have had as many supporters so can one justify their actions in that regard?

Categories: Global, Life, UBC

Moving Past Slackivism

February 25, 2012 4 comments

Follow up post on my previous entry Really Giving to Charity

How many of you have done any of the following things:

  • Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character
  • Post statuses such as I like it on the chair or I am the 1% who believe in…blah blah blah…
  • Participate in Earth Hour
  • Wear pink to show one’s commitment to anti-bullying, breast cancer etc…

If so, then you are part of a not-so-small group called slackivists. Slackivism describes the actions one does in support of a cause that has little or no practical effect except for his or her self-satisfaction. Usually there is very little effort required as in the case of updating Facebook statuses or sharing photos that trigger strong emotional responses from other people. Hence we get:

slacker + activism = slackivism

As Jessica LaGrone mentioned, the problem with slackivism is that people portray themselves as someone who cares about a cause when actually they haven’t contributed anything at all. When you see a friend click attending for a “turn off your lights during Earth Hour” fb event, you think oh that person cares about the environment and sustainability.  By liking a page or re-posting a status, people go to sleep every night with a soothed conscience thinking they did something good for the world so they don’t do anything else that actually benefits the causes. They think I’m an activist on screen so that I don’t have to make the effort to be one in real life.

In December 2010, many people changed their profile picture to a cartoon character. Here’s the accompanying caption:

Change your profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same. There should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. This is a campaign to stop violence against children.

The message in the caption was clear: you can stop violence simply by changing your picture. There was no mention of any links to visit or people to contact or charities to donate to if one wanted to actively get involved with that cause. Yes that campaign was successful at raising awareness, but there’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right things. Even if I may not have the ability to make a large impact, I can use my influence to get other people to be sustainable, donate to charity, volunteer at community centers etc… and not something silly such as changing a picture or turning off their lights at 8pm on March 31.

Categories: Global, Life

Really Giving to Charity

February 21, 2012 4 comments

When we give to charity, do we always make a positive change or sometimes further perpetuate a problem? Let’s say you donate money/food to starving children in Africa. What happens when all that is used up? Likely those children will require even more donations and become dependent on wealthier countries. However, what if that money was used to address why are children starving? Once you fix that problem, they won’t require donations from others anymore. As the saying goes, give a man a fish and he won’t be hungry for one night, but teach him to fish and he won’t be hungry for life.

The most recent fundraiser I helped out with was a hot chocolate sale. The logistics were simple: it ran for five hours every day for five days and there were four people running the booth at any given time. Therefore the total effort put into selling hot chocolate was 100 hours (4 ppl x 5 hours x 5 days). I don’t know how much money was raised, but I assume it was around $500. When you do the math, each volunteer raised only $5 per hour. If you think about it, instead of organizing and running the hot chocolate sale, what if the same people spent the same amount of time working at a minimum wage job ($10/hour) then donating that paycheck? We would have $1000 instead of $500 to give to charity.

Furthermore are there times when it’s better to withhold small charitable donations until the future when one can make a larger impact? For example, my friend (going to law school) currently doesn’t give to charity. However he made a pledge that once he becomes a lawyer and reaches a yearly salary of $250k, he will donate $10k every single year. If he had spent his time and money on small charitable causes, he may not have been able to focus getting into law school and potentially earn the salary required to make much larger donations in the future.

There are numerous charitable organizations, but we can’t donate to them all. It’s important to look at the bigger picture because our good intentions don’t always lead to the most favourable outcomes. Charity is more than just being nice. It’s about solving problems.

Categories: Global, Life

The Briefing 2012

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Last Wednesday, I attended The Briefing conference organized by the UBC Dollarproject club. In short, five charitable organizations present their causes at the conference then at the end, each audience member votes on one charity he or she wants the $500 prize money to go to. This is Dollarproject’s biggest event of the year and reflects the club’s philosophy of collective action because while one vote alone may not have any effect, many votes together will have a large impact.

Although the conference was supposed to start at 6pm, the opening address wasn’t given until 6:30 (my biggest pet peeve is waiting). This was followed by a dance performance from the A.R. Macneill senior dance team. Then each charity gave a brief speech accompanied by a Q and A session. There was a short dinner break before everyone went to their breakout sessions and finally returning for the closing remarks that ended at 9pm.

I thought the dance performance and live music were good touches because I would have been bored listening to speakers talk through a three-hour conference. This was a problem last year so I’m glad Dollarproject fixed it. The biggest improvement were the introduction of breakout sessions. Each of the five representatives held their own discussion group separately so we got to learn more about their charities before casting a vote. I attended the session led by Penny Lyons from Seva Canada and had an insightful discussion regarding development and relief charities.

The hallway where we ate was narrow and very cramped. I would have liked to eat where there were chairs and tables although I assume food and drinks weren’t allowed in the lecture hall. Since the conference started late, we attended only one breakout session when there were two scheduled. Marketing has to be more aggressive and I suggest targeting faculty/administrative members and inviting youtube celebrities. I also think the conference would be more attractive if it was shortened to two hours. Each of the five speakers have seven minutes and two 20 minute breakout sessions which takes up only 75 minutes, still plenty of time to have opening/closing remarks and a dinner break.

The winning charity was Seva Canada and they were most deserving. Most speakers only presented what they did as opposed to answering why their work matters so I found it hard to believe in their causes. Also I felt that some didn’t really address the fundamental problems underlying their causes (will blog about this later). Oh I’d like to add that the MCs did a great job making the conference as lively as possible.

Categories: Global, UBC

Defining the Occupy Movement

January 25, 2012 1 comment

As stated in the Occupy Vancouver’s mission statement, “the strength of Occupy… lies in the ambiguity of its mission”. While I agree with that statement, I don’t think that is a good thing. Imagine Stephen Harper as the prime minister, but no one in Canada knows what his political views are. Would you be comfortable following him if you didn’t know what he was thinking? This is the same situation now with a group of people demanding change, but not specifying what it is. What if the government decides to increase taxes and cut healthcare spending? Technically that is change so according to the mission statement, the Occupy Movement is a success right? It’s like those be careful what you wish for because you might just get it lessons we experience.

Ok in all seriousness let’s say politicians finally give in to the protesters’ demands. Exactly what changes will take place then? Everyone wants change, but different people want different things and you can’t satisfy everybody. Can you justify gathering a mass number of supporters who believe in a blind cause, knowing that at the end, not all those people will get what they want?

So what have the Occupy protesters accomplished so far? As far as I know, they haven’t done much, if not anything. There are many events such as the Keystone Pipeline project that may be attributed with the protesters simply because they are correlated. However that is a fallacy because the first rule of statistics is that correlation does not imply causation. For example how can you attribute Obama’s decision to reject the project due to the Occupy movement or the upcoming 2012 presidential election?

I do believe there is an increase in discussion about political, economic, social issues due to the Occupy movement. However as Tyler had mentioned, people have always talked about these injustices thanks to a wonderful invention called the Internet. I attended a discussion session about Occupy a couple of months ago. I met a few Occupy Vancouver protestors and asked them now that they have everyone’s attention, what is the next step? Their response was to continue gathering supporters and hold discussions about various global issues which tells me the movement still doesn’t have a plan of action. Considering the number of supporters, I would expect there to be someone who could at least devise and implement a plan to improve Occupy Vancouver’s position.

Sunlight, although ubiquitous, shining by itself on grass will not start a fire. However if a lens is placed on top, one can get a fire going. Just as the lens focuses sunlight into a specific point to start a fire, Occupy protestors must focus their energy on clearly defined goals if they wish to achieve the change they seek.

Categories: Global