I was hanging around, with my camera, in the hot city of Arequipa, sweating like a pig and exhausted by the high altitude, when a white marble building appeared as an oasis in the middle of the desert.
A resolute eye contact with the officer at the main entrance let me end up in a pretty chilled room, when, after few deep breaths, I realised that I was in an exhibition space hosting some digital cultural projects.
I was at the Centro Cultural Peruano Norteamericano, #PixelHack 2013.
I immediately smelt the enthusiasm and the positive attitude behind the 12 showcased works.
And that’s how my journey into the Peruvian digital world started.
In the past few years, artists, hackers and other professionals have got their heads down, with a problem-solving attitude, on the local cultural issues, developing a system of efficiency and independent initiatives.
While traveling through the Peruvian cities of Lima and Arequipa, my Italian and basic knowledge of some Spanish let me get around pretty well but, when I entered most remote areas, I encountered some difficulties communicating with locals who were speaking a language completely obscure to my ears.
With some Google's research and a bit of “bar talking” I discovered that in Peru over 40 languages are spoken: while Spanish has become official with the colonization, Quechua and Aymara are still largely used in the central Andes area and many others are talked in the northern Amazonian region.
Can you imagine how this could affect the education system?
In a country characterised by its geographic morphology with the Andes, lacking in transportation, with kids walking over 5 km a day or hitchhiking to get to school, or even busy on helping their parents to work the land, the huge variety of languages becomes an additional barrier for a cultural development process.
Having seen these scenarios with my own eyes, I developed a spontaneous curiosity towards the projects linking linguistic issues and open source software.
That's how I get to know Angela Delgado Valdivia, Directora de Cultura at the Peruvian North American Cultural Centre, and Kiko Mayorga, founder of EscueLab.
Finding simple solutions for complex problems is one of the main objectives for EscueLab, a not for profit organisation based in Lima that uses technology for the development of intellectual and creative freedom and has been built on the motto “No hay cultura sin cambio y no hay cambio sin experimento” / "There is no culture without change and no change without experiment".
"Amtawi" in Aymara means "Agreement" or "Memory". "Amtawi Digital" was a documentary photography workshop / experimental study in Lacachi, Puno in April 2011.
A Lacachi primary school serves a group of 44 children who have had computers since 2008 through the OLPC One Laptop Per Child program.
OLPC have an integrated camera and this has been used as a tool for digital participation on native culture.
OLPC laptops run open source software that can be programmed according to the language spoken in the area. There are blue case laptops and green case laptops hosting different programs according to the child’s school level.
Quechua is a language spoken in the most traditional and rural areas.
Young people who move from the countryside to the city discredit their indigenous language, considering it antique and useless in today’s modern life.
With this kind of introduction it’s hard to believe that this language could be linked with the future, but a team of experts worked night and day to change this perception, creating Runasimipi/Quechua software to translate over 1541 sentences.
The icon is a rip off of the famous Linux icon - now the Penguin wears a Peruvian hat and holds the famous bag containing coca leaf (which men share with each other as a sign of respect, when meeting in the countryside or in some remote islands).
There’s also a version of Word called Abiword, similar to the famous one, with the difference being that it can be copied and modified without being charged.
Educational software for primary school used to teach art, math and geometry and recently translated in Quechua. It lets kids in rural areas have the same level of knowledge as the kids living in the city.
Ablamos Quechua (Let’s Speak Quechua) It’s a project described by its creators as a “techno-socio-cultural experiment to re-establish connections”
A twitter account called @hablemosquechua, generates Quechua sentences, starting spontaneous conversations online and teaching this language to the community of followers.
It's interesting to see how digital and its versatility used with a problem solving attitude can link past and future, the rural area with the metropolis and even overcome the stigma kids hold of their indigenous origin.
Ah! and alongside all of this, even gave some freshness and shadow to a tourist who enjoys getting lost in a new city.
Leeds University put on a panel session at the IPA on Monday evening for its alumni, discussing "Do marketeers have a love-hate relationship with social media?". There was an impressive panel, with Nancy Cruickshank (an entrepeneur at companies including handbag.com and now MyShowcase.com, as well as launch CEO at Weve), Lindsay Nuttall (Head of Marketing at BBC1 and BBC Drama, previously at ASOS and Channel 4), and Ruby Quince (Digital Director at Freud Communications). The panel was headed up by Nicola Mendelsohn, the Chairman at Karmarama and until recently, the President at the IPA.
The panel all love social media - being early adopters of digital, their careers have all obviously benefitted from this endorsement of social. More importantly, the value that social media has brought to the businesses and brands they work on has been invaluable.
The biggest value of social for the panel was the closeness it brought to the consumer - it is now easier than ever for a consumer not only to have a voice, but to contribute to the way the business is run.
It can be all to easy to dismiss consumer complaints as trolling, but Lindsay had an interesting example early on in the launch of ASOS in the US. A man was bombarding the Facebook page with negative posts - and when Lindsay got directly in touch with him, she found that he was living in Manhattan and working for a big, creative global brand. He had a complaint about his delivery - and then wasn't happy with the way he was handled afterwards. Once Lindsay and ASOS listened, and addressed his problems, it meant that he stopped posting all over the ASOS Facebook page, but more importantly, stopped his complaints to what would have been an influential group of friends and colleagues in New York. This is important, as his presence on social meant that ASOS could fix the consumer's problem - but also helped ASOS to manage their perception and reputation to a group of early adopters of ASOS.
It shows how important and valuable social is - even when it means having negative feedback on something you've worked hard on, from someone you don't know - and without the politeness filter the internet and a keyboard can often remove. ASOS could learn from the man's issues, and improve their business as a consequence.
In 2013, there are so many different touchpoints the consumer can have at any one point - and if they can purchase something from your online store at 3am in the morning, surely they should be able to contact someone at the other end of Twitter or Facebook. There is a growing need to shift our customer relations to 24/7 availability.
The panel suggested that rather than a "love-hate" relationship with social media, businesses can have a "love-fear" relationship instead. Social can be a daunting task, with multiple channels - and a consumer complaint can quickly get out of hand if it isn't dealt with quickly and effectively. The panel had interesting ways of dealing with this - Nancy gets a text every time someone tweets, so she is able to reply straight away. For Nancy, there is no longer the divide between "in real life" and on the internet - she is always behind a keyboard - just different ones at different points of the day.
It was also interesting to hear Nancy expand a little more on monitoring social - when to moderate, and when not to. With Handbag.com, she found that their best moderators were the community themselves. They were so loyal to Handbag, that they were the best judge of when someone was inappropriate - and when someone was controversial, but shouldn't be censored. Again, it was this idea of "love-fear" relationship - social media is always valuable, but can be ridiculously daunting for the person behind it - and actually, trusting the community worked really well for Handbag.com.
Another point all the panel agreed on was how important it is for the highest up in the business to be interested in social media, and fully appreciate the value it brings to their business - it can't be something just left to junior team members. Burberry was used as one example - both the CEO and Christopher Bailey went to to Silicon Valley to visit Facebook, Google, Twitter etc, and they were determined to become the best case studies of using these platforms.
Similarly, Lindsay talked about how the ASOS CEO would go onto the street outside the office and talk to their target audience on the street. Social is a way to be monitoring this conversation at all times - and if the CEO is constantly on top of what is being said about their company, the rest of their team are going to follow suit.
I've also heard something similar about the CEO of O2 - he looks through Twitter in the evening, sometimes contacting people talking about O2 himself. With the failure of the O2 mast last year, the panel also talked about the success of O2's social after this event. For the first few hours, O2 was replying to complaints with a standard line from their press release - and consumers were getting more irate. And then suddenly, they started replying to people in a fun and interesting way. The account became humanised, and people actually enjoyed having a conversation with the network who they'd been complaining about in the first place. The most important thing with this was the trust that had been given to the people running the account - they were able to do their job well, without being scared of moving away from corporate speech.
The panel also talked about data, and how much knowledge about consumer habits businesses can get from this. Businesses could have the ability to know the exact conditions that someone is more likely to buy something, and position themselves to take advantage of this effectively. Lindsay had a particularly interesting insight - when the BBC was recently doing a review of broadcasters worldwide, they found that no one has really started to use data as a tool for content generation. The networks still rely on the writers. I can imagine this is something that will divide our agency – when creativity is so core to our way of working, trying to measure or rely on data to generate creativity seems like a scary prospect. But then, I'd be interested to see what sort of things HBO, or the BBC would produce by using data from millions of people to generate the content.
In the panel discussion, there were a few ways that would be good to see working better with social media. It would be great to be able to get a more connected user journey that linked Facebook, Google, websites browsed: more effective, comprehensive and universal measuring tools. There was also a discussion about linking social more directly to ROI - people can both interact with a brand, and buy their product with a couple of clicks. I'll be interested to see how e-commerce gets more integrated with social media over the coming years. Of course, mobile was also talked about - this year, 30% of all shopping on Boxing Day was done through mobile - and this number is only going to continue to go up.
The panel were all immensely passionate about social media, and couldn't say one thing they hated about it. Social media can sometimes be difficult, as it brings you closer than ever to a demanding consumer. However, ultimately, the consumer is the one interacting with your brand or business - and actually if you listen to them, they can help you improve and bring a lot more value to your business. Social media is here to stay, and at its most effective if it is loved from the very top of the business.
Weetabix: Mary Swanson, aged two, morbidly obese: "I fucking love this product! Back in the day, I used to hide chocolate up my anus so Mum wouldn’t suss me – now it’s hidden inside freaking Weetabix! And Mum buys this shit! No questions asked. Adults are fucking mugs. LOL!
"This ad hit all the right buttons: it was fast-paced and exciting. I did at some point have a couple of heart palpitations but, thankfully, the antibiotics in the processed meat hidden inside the crust of my pizza calmed me down."
Reebok:Gerald Lind, 42, drug-dealer, High Wycombe: "In ’83, I used to hide skunk in my Reebok Classics. But, back then, any running we did wasn’t to some nightclub in Heaven, like in this ad, it was into a friend’s Mini Metro to skin up and listen to Haircut One Hundred.
"I doubt anyone who made this ad was alive in ’83. If they had been, they’d know that street kids were nowhere near as fit as they’re portrayed here. Most of the ones I knew had a 20-a-day Curly Wurly habit – and that’s on top of all the dope! But I suppose that’s advertising: the past ain’t what it used to be. Which reminds me: my old teacher had an orthopaedic shoe. We used to say she was wearing Reeblocks. I still think that’s the most memorable thing I’ve heard about Reebok."
Vision Express: Tom Longly, 45, unemployed: "They say never hit a man in glasses. But this didn’t stop my ex-wife. Or her son. But I feel better for seeing this ad. I liked the music and I shouted out when I spotted that famous cook – I would have liked a bit more of him.
"The other day, I was on my bike listening to Anthony Robbins’ Personal Power and I ran into the back of a parked car. I hit the floor and, as I patted the ground for my glasses, a shout echoed through my ears: ‘Should have gone to Specsavers, mate. HA HA HA HA.’ I held up what was left of my glasses and saw that it was a police car leaving me in its dust. I don’t think this Vision Express ad will penetrate the social consciousness to such a degree."
Virgin Trains: Lisa Lovenut, 16.75, head of Digital Acceleration and Integrated Inspiration 3.0: "Here we see the new appropriating the old, but not being as inspirational or integrated as the old. We need to ask: should we be advertising at all? Or should we be making things worth advertising?
"Let’s forget for a moment that the trains are the product and need advertising and, instead, bring some Nike+ to the situation. Regardless of the problem, what product doesn’t earn advocacy via creating another product?
"Content drives brand advocacy – are we getting any of this with a poster? Will anyone having to stand on a train even see this? But I bet we could hit them with an app! We should really look into what we can do with Friends Reunited and build some ideation buzz here. Maybe crowdsource something. Then add some storytelling. These ads do look nice, though."
The Sunday Times:Michael Meadows, 28, care worker: "I don’t read The Times and I don’t really like fashion. But that image of Kate Moss as the Queen – well, I’ve always said, when pushed, that I’d shag the Queen. What man wouldn’t? It’s the Queen! So this poster is every man’s fantasy in one image. All it needs is Mirren’s tits."
There is the man who on Sunday morning refuges in his house's basement, trying to repair with his rusty tools all the objects that went broken during the week. And then you have the man who refuges on a room, away from the rest of the family, to read magazines and books.
And then you have Zimoun, in between the two men mentioned above.
Zimoun is a sound architecture and on his working place has thousand of mechanical tools maniacally arranged in a perfect order together with paper and sketches. He builds projects displayed at the Nam June Paik Art Center in Korea; bitforms gallery of New York; Kunsthalle Bern; Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein; the Contemporary Art Museum MNAC Bucharest; Museum of Contemporary Art MSUM, Ljubljana; Seoul Museum of Art.
His research moves around simple solutions and complex behavior. Using industrial materials like wires, plastic bags, small motors and screws, displayed in an obsessive way he generates platforms of sound.
Zimoun explores and investigates sound giving to it a physical shape just like a sculpture does with marble.