This week FigDigEst has 6500 Scrabble hacks, clicks Google’s Buy Button, speculates on robot teddies and gives up on multi-tasking.
Last year saw ‘photobomb’ crowned Word of the Year by Oxford University Press (OUP). The Children’s Word of the Year 2014, chosen through an analysis of hundreds of thousands of entries to the BBC’s 500 Words competition, was ‘minion’. This year, the winning Children’s Word of the Year has come out as ‘hashtag’ or, rather, ‘#’. According to OUP, ‘#’ has entered children’s vocabulary beyond the realms of social media: being used in everyday writing to add drama or meaning to a sentence #LikeThis. It seems the language of the internet is having a noticeable impact on the way we communicate with each other in daily life, beyond the screen.
This follows last week’s news that Merriam-Webster have added new words like ‘clickbait’, ‘emoji’, ‘meme’, and ‘WTF’ (what-the-f***) to the dictionary. The Collins Scrabble Word List has also had over 6,500 new additions, many of which resemble text speak and slang. Playing ‘thanx’ will now earn you 15 points, ‘tuneage’ eight points, ‘lolz’ 13 points and ‘vape’ nine points. These “informal varieties of English,” says Collins’ Head of Language Content, have new written evidence across social media and blogging platforms, meaning that they can officially be appreciated as part of the English language. You can see more new official Scrabble words here.
But First, Let Me Take An ‘Elfie’
We’ve been treated to some incredible so-called animal ‘photobombs’ in the past (try and read this article without laughing), but now they’ve gone a step further by treating us to selfies. Good ones at that. And none can be more spectacular, surely, than seen in this snap. Taken last year in Thailand by 22-year-old Christian LeBlanc, it’s gone viral this week.
The elephant got hold of LeBlanc’s GoPro, which was set on time lapse, and managed to capture the image of a lifetime. The story has received global press coverage, from The Huffington Post and Daily Express to USA TODAY and the Bangkok Post.
We can’t think of anything particularly constructive or marketing-related to say about this story, apart from you should probably be using animal selfies in some way.
Come Buy, Come Buy
It’s been confirmed this week that Google will soon be introducing a ‘buy button’ to its search results. Speaking at the Code Conference in California this Wednesday, Google’s Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani said, “There’s going to be a buy button. It’s going to be imminent”. The button, which is designed to encourage consumers to make more purchases online, will allow transactions to be made without the “friction” of having to go to another website.
This April, Amazon released its ‘Dash Button’: a Wi-Fi-enabled plastic button placed around the home that allows users to re-order household goods such as laundry detergent and toothpaste with just one press. Facebook and Twitter have also both experimented with ‘Buy Now’ buttons. The concern among retailers is that features like this will reduce their ability to convey a brand narrative. But as the customer becomes increasingly hungry for services that are instant, hassle-free and ‘always on’, brands need to focus on creating highly convenient search experiences.
Lost In Translation Language
Would your online experiences be different if your first language wasn’t English? According to this article by The Guardian’s Holly Young, yes. Back in the mid-1990s, the English language made up 80 per cent of internet content, but now holds a lesser share of around 30 per cent due to the vast growth of languages like Chinese, Spanish and Arabic online. But rather than opening up this multi-cultural, multi-lingual cyberspace for exploration, language still impacts on how we behave online and who we are able to communicate with.
Forty-nine per cent of Tweets are in other languages. One hundred and forty characters mean more in certain languages than in others. On Wikipedia, 95 per cent of content is offered in fewer than six languages. And local search can bring up different results depending on what language you’re searching in, meaning that there’s a language-based fragmentation affecting how people interact with and understand their physical surroundings.
Ultimately, the language you use when searching has an impact on the results you see. Naturally, then, people might begin to opt for using a more dominant online language when using the internet, simply to get access to a larger quantity of material.
Earlier this month, Skype announced that it’s launched a live translation tool to instantly translate speech as the user is talking, in an attempt to break down these barriers and allow internet users to communicate with each other irrespective of language. The tool is currently available in English, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin.
Robot Teddies Are Go (possibly)
News reaches us this week of Google’s patent for internet-enabled teddies: smart (yet soft) robotic toys that can respond to kids and operate household appliances. The application for the patent was filed in 2012 and, if put into production, the toys could be fitted with cameras and microphones enabling them to ‘listen’ to conversations, swivel their heads to make eye contact and respond with recorded phrases. The toys were the creation of inventor Richard Wayne DeVaul, who holds the fantastic sounding role Director of Rapid Evaluation and Mad Science at innovation lab Google X.
As yet there’s no word from Google on whether the idea will be developed further, but response in the tech press has been mixed. According to the BBC, the patent was spotted by legal technology firm SmartUp who described the proposal as “one of Google’s creepiest patents yet”. Campaign group Big Brother Watch also expressed anxiety. “The privacy concerns are clear when devices have the capacity to record conversations and log activity,” Director Emma Carr told the BBC. “When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line. Children should be able to play in private and shouldn’t have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy. It is simply unnecessary.”
Whether or not the toys ever go into production, there’s something inherently discomforting about animatronic toys, dolls and models. That may be because they occupy what robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970 termed the ‘uncanny valley’: that eerie zone in our aesthetic consciousness where things appear almost, but crucially not quite, real. FigDigEst will be digging out its copy of Steven Spielberg’s ever-prescient 2001 film A.I., which featured a chilly smart-toy called Teddy. We will not, however, be revisiting Chucky in the Child’s Play films, which still give us nightmares. Our copy of the ultimate in doll-horror, 1945’s The Ventriloquist’s Dummy, will probably stay in the box as well.
One Thing At A Time
As the old joke has it, how can you tell if a guy’s multi-tasking? He’s reading and moving his lips at the same time. The term has its origin in the computer engineering industry but entered the business lexicon in the 1990s to describe the challenges associated with, y’know, doing two things at once. Recently, however, there’s been an acknowledgement that multi-tasking may lead to less effective performance and even diminish happiness as we’re overloaded with choice, struggle to concentrate on or complete tasks and skim our way through the information stream.
We’re intrigued then, by a new book called Singletasking: Get More Done – One Thing at a Time by Devora Zack. “Multitasking is unnatural, ineffective, stressful, and occasionally dangerous,” notes the blurb. “Think texting while driving. The world is better off when people focus on one task at a time.”
The obsession with multi-tasking reminds us of one of our favourite workplace analogies – the upside down swan: despite frantic activity on the service, underneath nothing’s happening at all. Once you’ve finished reading this, checked your emails, Tweeted, updated Facebook and ordered tonight’s take-away, find out more about focus here.
Backlinks: things that were quite long this week but we managed to read them anyway
Written by Estelle Hakner and Jon Fortgang