The World of Reality Shows

I haven’t own a T.V set since moving to the U.S. twelve years ago. As such, I am fully unplugged from the world of Reality T.V shows. Most of my brainpower is allocated to world issues, career transitioning, caring for my family, catching up on the latest technology update and so forth.

Over pizza last night, I learned about a couple of shows. “Toddlers & Tiaras” was one of them. Let me just say that out of an audience of nine people, six of them enthusiastically proceeded to comment about “Toddlers & Tiaras”. As I heard the stories of mothers spraying tanning solutions on two year olds, bleaching their teeth with toxic agents and adding fake breasts so as to win the competition, I thought to myself, I really was born in the wrong planet !!! This morning I woke up still thinking about “Toddlers & Tiaras” so I proceeded to do some research about it.

If you are new to the world of reality shows, let me point to the fact that a search on reality shows in Wikipedia results in 1,159 pages. I was astonished to find shows ranging from “Baseball Wives” and “The Biggest Loser” all the way to “All American Muslim”.

What astounded me was not the variety present in the reality show world. God knows that nowadays if I want to find my favorite Corn Flakes cereal, I have to navigate over who knows how many boxes of nutrition-less products. I was bewildered when I found out that most of these reality shows are advertised in “The Learning Channel”, a “Discovery Channel” enterprise. “The Learning Channel”… really? What is there to learn by watching reality shows such as “Toddlers & Tiaras” ? What am I missing ? Am I missing the desperation of a working class American culture ? Why else would you have a child win the title of “Ultimate Grand Supreme” while walking away with a $1,000 cash tag price?

I won’t even attempt to review the reality show “Baseball Wives”.  I think it is easier to resolve a differential equation describing the possibility of a universal currency !  I am intrigued however by a show described to me as “Who’s your Daddy”, a reality show in which participants guess who is the daddy of someone. As it turns out, the daddy of your wife’s child could be your best friend, your brother or even your elderly son…Not that you need to be doubting your sperm motility or your dynein arms. Fascinating ah? Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an episode on You Tube.

Why do people get lost in reality shows? That is the real question. Do we really need to numb our brains to such extent? Is real life really that boring?

A World of Categorizations

I am a dog lover.

Reading about the multiple abuses to pit bulls led me to the task of adopting one. Over the years, I have had decent success training dogs of all types. As a neuroscientist by training, I try as much as possible to avoid categorizations. In my mind, a pit bull is just another creature that responds to love, discipline, expectations and exercise. Lefty has been an eye opener in the world of categorizations.

In every walk, I inevitably get the question “what type of dog is he?”

As an experiment, I answer different things ranging from a Mutt, an American Bulldog, a Terrier Mix, and, oh my god, a Pit Bull ! Given that Lefty is the same sweet dog in all instances, it is interesting to observe people’s reactions to my answers: they are as scattered as the performance of a mutual fund in the last decade.  As the people who get the “pit bull” answer pull their dogs away from mine, I think about what categorizations do to our world.

I was born an immigrant in my country of origin. My great grandfather was an Algerian bedouin who, for reasons I have yet to comprehend, ended up in Colombia.  He married a Wayuu  indian who gave birth to my grandfather. My grandfather ended up falling in love with an Afro-Colombian slave, my grandmother. My father Daniel is then an Afro-Algerian-Wayuu mutt. Daniel meets my mother, who, if we still insist on categorizing, is a mix of Spaniard Arabic and Muisca, a Mesoamerican indian tribe.

As I vote in the U.S (or for that matter try to fill any form), I get the option of three boxes to check my ethnicity. I wonder, what is the purpose of such futile statistics? I would feel less skeptical if instead of a box named “Hispanic” I could get a choice named “Brown” !

LinkedIn and the Definition of Self

In this day and age, it is becoming relatively difficult to find one’s heart.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the advantages of tweeting, flickering, wetokuing, twitterfalling and all/many other versions of the new ing-form verbs. The truth of the matter is that in the midst of not falling behind the technology scene, I am losing the ability to connect with my heart.

I was recently trying to update my LinkedIn profile. Everyone seems to agree that if you are not on LinkedIn, you might as well stuff a note in a wine bottle “Cast Away” style in hopes that someone finds you alive. My profile description is probably as boring as it gets. You know, it uses typical meaningless phrases such as: forward-focused professional, motivated self-starter, management of cross-functional teams, meets & exceeds expectations, and all other bla, bla, bla that one learns in MBA school.

The challenge is: how do you brand yourself when current definitions of self are based on meaningless business adopted jargon? What would a brand look like if it were to reflect the human side of things? What about a LinkedIn summary description that presents who we are as humans rather than productive machines?

In the perpetual quest of self promotion, I am expected to be creative on LinkedIn. God forbids if my life doesn’t fit the linear nature of the LinkedIn platform format. Where do circular people fit in? LinkedIn is all about “your brand”, HR experts affirm. It is all about showing “uniqueness”. What is so unique about a herd of professionals mooing together on a paid platform?

As a scientist for many years, “brand” was never a word part of my vocabulary. In the world of science, you are what you know and that is the end of the story. Whether you show up to the lab wearing Payless white running shoes or whether your armpits smell after a running break, your “brand” is still that of a good scientist. As I transition into the business world, I notice that brand and positioning are critical elements of product success. You are lucky if your “human brand” is as specific as the positioning of a tomato sauce, a diaper or a chain store like Walmart: “save money live better”.

What if you are a Heinz 57? Can the market bear creatures like me? I refuse to think of myself as a product for consumption. I am a human. I am a scientist, an entrepreneur, a dreamer, an immigrant, a languages lover, a traveler and so on. I am original and my formula can’t be replicated (thanks God for transposons). How can you possibly pretend to position human beings? What if there is a gap on one’s professional repertoire? Is that a sin? In Corporate America it seems to be the case. LinkedIn is a platform configured to display  linear progressions. Unfortunately, most configurations in nature are circular: the atom, the cell, the brain, the magnetic fields and yes, some of us humans.

Based on the idea that natural processes change continuously, the concept of branding a human being seems pretty futile to me. Branding is practical. It is categorical. I believe that we brand human beings to prevent our brains from working overtime.  I argue that branding and positioning should only apply to products. I argue that the current overemphasis on “branding yourself” takes instinct to its minimal expression. I advocate developing instinct. Even if our modern lives are spent on Facebook, Twitter and alike, we are still ultimately animals. Instinct still sits at the core of animal survival.

Branding should be left for Frito Lay, currently positioned as “naturally delicious”. Naturally created Doritos, where the word “Naturally” doesn’t mean a thing !

Microfinance: Real Development Tool?

Reading Milford Bateman’s book “Why Doesn’t Microfinance Work”, leads to think about changing the way we implement “international development” and poverty alleviation measures. In the two page write up downloadable here, I analyze Compartamos, one of the largest Microfinance organizations in today’s economy.  As Bateman argues, no real sustainable business can afford to pay interest rates of above 30%. Microenterprise development is not the most efficient way to poverty reduction unless microenterprises can efficiently scale. How can you scale while paying unreasonable high interest rates?