Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Collaboration and its Discontents

Like most of you who use Skype even occasionally, I sometimes get e-mails about the stuff that they're doing or want me to participate in. Also like most of you, I get way too many e-mails in general. The majority of the stuff Skype sends me doesn't even bother to look interesting, so their messages tend to be summarily DELETED along with all the "special offers" from every store that's ever sold me something online. Yes, I realize I can unsubscribe from like every single one of those. But this is me we're talking about. What if I happen to be in the market for a mechanical omelette flipper and I don't know I can get 90% off at Bed, Bath, and Beyond because I didn't get their stupid e-mails? What then, check the website? WAY too much work. Yeah, welcome to my brain. It gets dark in here sometimes.

Anyway, I was conducting my daily mass deletion of junk e-mails last night when I noticed one from Skype that somehow caught my attention. The subject heading read: You're invited to join the Skype Collaboration Project.

"The Skype Collaboration Project? And I'm invited?!" I shrieked with excitement, thinking that my chance had finally arrived to do something meaningful. Having been inundated with studies and anecdotes arguing for the power of technology to foster understanding and forestall violence, and remembering the role played by social media during the Arab Spring, my thoughts immediately turned to the applications of Skype as a tool for peace. As I opened the e-mail, my brain was on fire with possibility- would we be conducting video panels on open government? Sharing insights on rule of law with local stakeholders? Participating in a dialogue for human rights advocacy? Harnessing the virtually unlimited power of technology for the betterment of a troubled world?


None of the above. Promising "the who, what, where, and how for the next generation of do-ers, " Skype had instead blessed me with the opportunity to cuddle up to my "favorite industries" and have them tell me what I ought to putting on my lanky frame over the next 20 years. As an added bonus, I'd get to hear Posh Spice wax nostalgic about her own meteoric rise as a...whatever she considers herself to be. I guess some lesser gods of fashion and design would also listen to my puny contributions? Maybe? At some point?

"When in doubt, pinky out"

The whole thing is nominally aimed at helping me "fuel [my] own creative journey," but let's be honest here. To the extent that I even have a creative journey, stylists, brand consultants, and award-winning textile designers probably aren't going to be prominent characters in it. Are these really the "do-ers" I should be emulating?

Despite the lofty rhetoric, somehow this seems like the darker side of "collaboration," like locals collaborating with an invading military force or something.

I mean, I'd almost rather they just gave it to me straight and said "We know you like to consume, we've been tracking your page visits. Why don't you go ahead and cozy up, and we'll tell you what to buy and what to talk about. You'll even feel like you're making a difference, a little!" I think I can indulge my inner Little Eichmann just fine on my own, thank you.

Then again, maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe some of my "favorite industries" could include breweries that support sustainable transportation initiatives. I literally just thought of this. Textile makers/designers committed to socially just sourcing and labor standards. IT companies dedicated to connecting under-served and marginalized populations and fostering civic engagement. Corporate social responsibility! Maybe this could be a tool for good rather than just another attempt to splice rabid consumerism into my very DNA, and we should all get involved instead of being a Grinch about the whole exercise.

So all right, Skype. Let's see what you've got behind that "Get Involved" button. Let's see what the fashion world can do for the rest of the world if I decide to "collaborate." Cause I'll do it.

Right after I finish buying clothes and accessories and all manner of branded items for the people in my life this holiday season, to show them that I care.


...but if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing's changed at all?

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