I remember when meals were something that were cooked, prepared, or maybe in rare circumstances “released.” But dropped? That’s new.
“Isn’t that just the Chicken McNuggets meal?” No, it’s the BTS Meal. There’s a difference. For one, it has exclusive sauces (which I didn’t even get in my order 😩). For two…. actually, I think that’s it. No wait, the paper bag and cup are purple. The greasy trash that you would normally throw out? That part’s cool now.
So what is a “BTS Meal”? Contrary to what you might assume, it’s not a political thing (that would be the “BDS meal,” dropping next month), it’s a reference to the Korean boy band BTS. I assume that their namesake has claimed the Chicken McNuggets meal because that’s their favorite pick when they’re eating McDonald’s at the airport. Also, because Travis Scott already claimed the Quarter Pounder with Medium French Fries and Barbecue Sauce combo as his own.
You see what’s happening, right? McDonald’s is engaging in an act of information architecture.
Let’s examine both the 10 Piece Chicken McNugget Meal and the BTS Meal as objects of information and break out their components.
If we conceptualize a McDonald’s “meal” as consisting of the four parts Drink, Main, Side, and Sauce, we can see that the regular 10 Piece McNuggets meal and the BTS Meal are more alike than not. They both feature 10 McNuggets and french fries – the core of the meal, in my sauce-adverse opinion – and differ only when it comes to the exclusive Cajun and Sweet Chili sauces that you can only get with the BTS Meal.
What I find interesting is that there is a degree of “participatory experience” in the BTS Meal that shows up in the optional components and attributes. The true, BTS-hand-selected, “Director’s Cut” version of the BTS Meal calls for a Coca-Cola as your drink and limits your fries intake to a reasonable Medium. However, it’s technically possible to order a BTS Meal and substitute your drink for something other than Coke, or to perhaps indulge in a Large order of fries. The BTS Meal, therefore, becomes less of a prescription and more of an ideal, which users can either merely dabble in or embrace whole-heartedly. I can guess what the ARMY will be ordering.
Arguably, the hard boundaries of the BTS Meal lie in the sauce component. If you – God forbid – dip your McNuggies in ketchup or mustard, are you truly participating in the BTS Meal experience? In my opinion, no. The sauces are the most essential component because they are the most limited and exclusive. These sauces only exist for this meal. McNuggets are forever.
As of the time of writing this, 5pm EST on Saturday, April 17, 2021, the hyperlink to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms leads to an error. The page is missing.
I am not the only one who has noticed this.
This is mighty convenient given the universally condemned new lockdown measures imposed yesterday by the Doug Ford government that introduce, among other things, restrictions on interprovincial travel and outdoor gatherings with anyone outside of your household.
Now, I may be relatively new to Canada (I moved here from the United States in 2018), but even I have read the Charter a couple of times, and I seem to recall one of the sections dealing explicitly with the mobility rights of citizens. And I’m sure that giving the police carte blanche to stop and harass anyone who dares go outside violates some part of the Charter. Hmm… am I remembering that correctly? I’d love to check, but I can’t; our government’s information architecture has crumbled.
Perhaps this is the red-blooded American in me, but I couldn’t imagine, for example, walking up to the U.S. Constitution display in the National Archives Museum only to see it empty and replaced with the words “We’re sorry! We can’t find what you’re looking for!” Government spaces are government spaces, whether they exist physically or digitally. Something as fundamental as our documented human rights should not be haphazardly “misplaced,” especially one day after those rights were effectively shredded before our eyes.
This is yet another example of the worrying trend that I’ve written about before – important places made of information treated with reckless negligence by those in power. “It’s just a webpage. It’s just a broken link,” might argue some, but that sentiment betrays a lack of awareness about how much all of our lives are increasingly lived in webpages. (Especially during a pandemic when the physical counterpart to a government space is inaccessible even if we wanted to/could go visit.)
Obviously there other places online where one can find the text of the Charter. I don’t need this particular webpage in order to remind myself of my rights. Nor does its disappearance from this website imply that the rights themselves have also disappeared. Contrary to Ezra Levant’s above tweet, it almost certainly wasn’t Justin Trudeau himself who broke the link to this webpage. It may be a genuine mistake that will be corrected as soon as it’s noticed by the Canada.gov webmaster. I can’t even be certain that the Charter webpage wasn’t missing days before Doug Ford’s announcement yesterday.
But that 404 page sends a message. Whatever the reason for this broken link, I’m left frustrated and worried, especially given the timing of it. In her fantastic book How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody, Abby Covert writes, “The most important thing I can teach you about information is that it isn’t a thing. It’s subjective, not objective. It’s whatever a user interprets from the arrangement or sequence of things they encounter.” As users of that site – no, as Canadian citizens visiting the digital seat of our democratically elected government – we are entitled to whatever individual, subjective experience emerges from the content and context that we encounter there. It’s up to the information architects over at Canada.gov to craft a space that will effectively convey whatever message they’re aiming for in such a way that the message successfully travels to any user group, across any delivery medium or context.
As it stands today, the message I’m getting is, “Your rights and freedoms are gone.”
Actions have consequences, no matter what. But the modern day architectures of information in which we carry out many of our day-to-day actions have a tendency to obfuscate and distort our perceptions of those consequences, and indeed even the true nature of the actions themselves.
This morning I watched a CBS News interview of Michael T. van der Veen, impeachment defense lawyer for former President Donald Trump. I encourage you to watch the full interview below.
van der Veen begins the interview by somberly reiterating his lack of disbelief that politicians will say and do anything, including doctor evidence. At around 1:20 in the above clip, van der Veen’s emotion begins to show, as he is faced with his first dismissive comment from anchor Lana Zak.
At around the 2:30 mark in the above clip, Lana Zak responds, “Let’s follow up with the point you’re making right now about the house managers as you say doctoring evidence—”
van der Veen steps in. “They didn’t deny it. I put it in front of them three times.”
“What I’m telling you is that they doctored evidence. And I believe your question says, ‘well it’s only a Twitter check and changing a year of a date here.’ They switched the date of a Twitter a year to try to connect it to this case. That’s not a small thing, ma’am. The other thing they did is they put a check mark on something to make it look like it was a validated account when it wasn’t. And when they were caught, they didn’t say anything about it. They didn’t even try to come up with an excuse about it. And that’s not the way our prosecutors or our government officials should be conducting themselves. And the media shouldn’t be letting them get away with it, either.”
Anyone who is familiar with the “Inspect Element” option on their web browser can tell you how trivial it is to edit the HTML of a webpage, take a screenshot, and then pass off the result as a real historical document. Or to open up Photoshop, prepare an image of an unverified tweet on one layer, open up a PNG of the Twitter verification check mark on another layer, then click and drag the check mark image into place in order to complete the forgery. UX designers create “mockups” of their prototypes and ideas for user interface designs in such a manner all the time. Once you’ve gotten practice, it doesn’t take much effort to create images like this. Click, click, click, drag, click, done. No big deal.
However, when a falsified image is presented before the United States Senate under the guise of evidence, it is a crime. Thank God for brave men such as Michael T. van der Veen, who still have the courage to stand up and speak the truth. It can be taken as evidence of our culture’s ongoing and accelerating slide into what conservative Christian author Rod Dreher dubs “soft totalitarianism” that his brave defense of the truth was unfortunately not without personal, negative consequence to van der Veen and his family. Terrorists tracked down van der Veen’s address and vandalized his home. As the local Philadelphia CBS affiliate reported, “Someone spray-painted ‘traitor’ at the end of the driveway of his Chester County home with an arrow pointed toward the house.”
Committing a crime used to, well, feel like committing a crime. Back before commercial image editing software became ubiquitous, doctoring images would have required, at the very least, “scissors or ink.” The deed could not be done with the same number of clicks as any other trivial action that we do all day on the computer at our regular jobs.
Andrew Hinton, author of the phenomenal book Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture, has demonstrated how a simple change in context can lead to a huge change in behavior. Actions that may have once felt obviously, tangibly wrong now lack the palpable, material feedback that our human bodies perhaps relied upon to inform us of the true nature of our actions.
Hinton illustrated this in a 2013 talk at World Information Architecture Day in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His point was how the design of Twitter scrambles the “ecological information affordance for action.” The difference in actions that a user must take to send a direct message (a private, one-to-one correspondence) versus a regular Tweet (a public, one-to-many correspondence) is subtle and easily confused. The “real-world” equivalent—that is, a person whispering a private message into someone’s ear versus standing in front of an audience with a megaphone—would never be so easily confused. An action that a user would clearly not want to take under normal circumstances in the built environment becomes much less obviously so when the same action takes place in an information environment.
Fortunately for those of us who value truth and facts—wherever they may lead us—this subtle manipulation of user behavior can cut both ways. Just as information environments can lead users to underestimate the ethical severity of their actions, it can also lead those same users to underestimate what they would need to do to “cover up” those actions.
Perhaps the impeachment lawyers believed that because Twitter management had deleted Donald Trump’s Twitter account and erased all of his Tweets from their site that no one would be able to fact-check the lawyers when they presented their doctored evidence. It was this carelessness on their part that, depending on your politics, either disintegrated the integrity of their other arguments or exposed the weakness of their entire case. All I can say is thank God for Archive.org.
Twitter is not the only tech titan whose information architectures obfuscate the true nature of actions that in the built environment would be obviously and tangibly criminal. The climax of the Reddit-GameStop fiasco that took place late last month was when Robinhood, along with several other securities trading platforms, actually removed the “buy” button from their interface in order to manipulate users’ perfectly lawful and reasonable behavior.
In a purely “real-world” environment, wresting control of countless customers’ financial assets away from them—against their will—would entail, for starters, a massive, worldwide information blitz to tens of thousands of workers at banks and other financial institutions. All of these workers would have to be informed (and convinced) why retail investors’ actions that were perfectly legal and acceptable moments previously must now be forcibly prevented at all costs. Next, arguably, these institutions would need to load up on security personnel and other measures as innumerable aggrieved and justifiably irate customers would begin to inundate these institutions with their cries of foul play.
However, in the information environment, all that needs to be done to disenfranchise millions of customers all at once is to highlight the few lines of code that produce the “buy” button, hit backspace, and ask the UX writers to draft some condescending fluff about how they’re keeping users “safe” from their own ignorance and unsophistication.
What we need is a renewed vigilance on our part as inhabitants of information environments. To return to the lessons of Andrew Hinton’s talk, the Venn diagram of “online” and “the room” looks more and more like a circle with each passing day. The resulting danger is that we lose sight of the consequences of actions.
We must not downplay or trivialize, as CBS News anchor Lana Zak and the impeachment team did, actions that take place online or on a screen. Those actions are no less “real” than those that take place offline. A crime is no less criminal whether committing it entails hours with scissors and ink or whether it entails “merely” changing a 1 to a 0. Notice it or not, the consequences are felt. Even if they aren’t felt by you, believe me, they are felt by others.
It’s true. Each clip is equal parts entertaining and enlightening. Dave Ramsey, financial guru, takes phone calls from people facing money problems and offers his simple but direct advice. Many times the caller’s issue is out-of-control debt, but other times it’s something juicier, such as the discovery of a spouse’s secret credit card.
The Dave Ramsey Show gives me enjoyment similar to what I get from watching Dr. Phil, 90 Day Fiancé, or My 600-lb Life. The level of personal drama aired out in the open is about the same as any reality TV drama, but the lessons about personal finance and responsible spending feel much more personally applicable than the lessons from a show about eating dry wall or squeezing cysts.
Fortunately, when I click on a video with a title like “Fiancé Has $200,000 of Debt!!! What Should I Do?” it’s not because I relate to the situation but because I want to get Dave’s take on it. “Beans and rice, rice and beans?” I ask myself aloud when I hear a caller’s story.
After a while, it’s easy to guess how Dave will respond to any caller who calls in with a particularly outrageous debt: sell the car, don’t step foot inside a restaurant unless you work there, and get rid of so much in your house that your kids’ll wonder if they’re next!
One of Dave’s signatures is his response to “Hi Dave, how are you doing?” As if by instinct, Dave always responds, “Better than I deserve.” I always found that odd. Like what, does he think he deserves to do poorly? Perhaps Dave explains his casual self-loathing in one of his bestselling books, wherein I assume he tells the full story of how he became wealthy, lost it all, and then built it back again. I’ve heard all about Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace, but I prefer to receive Dave’s wisdom while he lays into some poor caller who bought yet another truck he couldn’t afford. “You’d better get your freaking butt in gear, mister!”
Dave Ramsey represents an ever-dwindling number of onscreen, Evangelical boomers who can still be counted on to give generally sound—but more importantly, self-assured—financial and ethical advice. Cut up your credit cards, avoid debt as much as possible, don’t trust that the government will ever adequately meet your needs… Dave’s advice is far from mainstream, as he would surely be the first to admit.
I have to respectfully disagree with Dave’s take on bitcoin (“internet funny money”); from listening to the way he speaks of it and other cryptocurrencies, it’s my opinion, at least, that he doesn’t understand it. That’s fine—Dave understands other commonsense things that surprisingly few others seem to, such as the importance of living below one’s means or getting married before buying a house with your partner.
Dave’s admittedly one-size-fits-all “7 baby steps” method for eliminating debt would probably not be the first choice of a well-credentialed, capital-E “Expert” who might (perhaps even correctly) point out that mathematically it makes more sense to pay off the highest-interest debt first, rather than simply the debt with the smallest balance. But what Dave’s advice might lack in 100% optimized quantitative rigor, it more than makes up for in down-to-Earth, good old fashioned common sense. Even the Harvard Business Review had to concede that clearing off debts, no matter how small they are at first, has a noticeable effect on motivating someone to continue paying back what they owe.
Whenever one of Dave’s fatherly tongue-lashings risks becoming too demoralizing, he’ll interject with a chuckle or an assurance along the lines of “I’m only doing this because I want you to win.” No one is told their life is over. No one is denied their humanity. There are no “stupid people,” only “people who did stupid things.” It’s a message of redemption, decency, and hope.
The following is a book review of COVID-19: The Great Reset, by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret that I posted to Amazon.ca.I will link to it when it is live.
This is an odd review to write. While I think the policy prescriptions in COVID-19: The Great Reset are… misguided, to put it nicely… I do see some value in reading this book if only so that you can better understand the mindset of the man who chairs the World Economic Forum and is occasionally photographed dressed like some sort of Mortal Kombat character. Perhaps this is a book best borrowed for free from the library.
Once I moved past the alarming title, COVID-19: The Great Reset was more nuanced than I expected. Schwab and the other guy make a few interesting predictions about our post-COVID future, for example, businesses optimizing for resiliency over profit or “local tourism” becoming the king of the travel industry. However, readers don’t need to be particularly astute to pick up on the elitist, ends-justify-the-means attitude that underlies every page of the book. I’ll give you an example with one of my favorite(?) quotes:
“… a state emergency can only be justified when a threat is public, universal and existential. In addition, political theorists often emphasize that extraordinary powers require authorization from the people and must be limited in time and proportion. One can agree with the former part of the assertion (public, universal and existential threat), but what about the latter?”
Schwab hits an odd mix of both acknowledging globalism’s role in exacerbating the massive societal and economic upheaval brought about by COVID-19, while putting forth a solution that appears to be… to double down on globalism. And by that I mean to convince (if not force) national governments to give up sovereignty to supranational bureaucracies such as, well, the World Economic Forum.
“Problems that affect the entire world require the entire world to cooperate in order to fix them” is the gist of the book’s message. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of well-meaning people agree with that idea, but I would encourage those people to scrutinize a little more closely the track records and beliefs of organizations that claim to speak for all the world’s inhabitants before they surrender their rights, privacy, and livelihoods.