Do Not Do This Cool Thing

A lot of anti smoking and campaigns and no to drugs campaigns actually make things worse. Many adverts show people succumbing to peer pressure and smoking or taking drugs in realistic, everyday situations. Coupled with the way that forbidding something often makes people more likely to do it, out of rebellion or just by putting the idea in their heads, these campaigns often end up saying, “Do not do this cool thing.”

One non-drug example is war; it has been said that it’s impossible to make an anti-war film. The hyper-realistic war games and films don’t seem to put people off by showing the horrors of battle, and war-based video games are incredibly popular, whether the enemies are Nazis and zombies, or the player is.

There was a digital piracy prevention advert which backfired spectacularly in this respect. Not only did the pirate imagery bring cool villain pirates from films such as Pirates of the Caribbean to mind, the evil imagery seemed over the top, and statements such as “You wouldn’t steal a car!” successfully compared physical theft to piracy – and caused internet speculation about how cool it would be to illegally download supercars.

Many stories have trouble creating realistic villains, as all but the ugliest villain whose actions invariably lead to failure are the favourite character of somebody. There is not a vampire story since Dracula which didn’t concede that even evil vampires who are trying to kill you are cool and sexy, or give up entirely on portraying them as villains. No matter how many Harry Potter fans have Order of the Phoenix tattoos, a good percentage have Dark Mark tattoos. In fact, many films’ intended villains are taken by many to be the hero of the piece, including the destructive terrorist Tyler Durden of Fight Club, the same-as-the-government-villains V of V for Vendetta and even the mad Scientist Frank n Furter of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (itself making a mockery of science fiction b movies, and loved by many fans of those films, and many who have never even seen them.)

This effect even happens when people avoid showing the thing they are trying to condemn. As long as positive media exists, the message just becomes Do Not Do That Cool Thing. When celebrities who live lives of excess enjoy great success, and surround themselves with expensive things and beautiful people, even an equally famous person who tries to promote cleaner, more virtuous behaviour seems a lot less exciting and fun in comparison.

The only anti-drug speech that I’ve ever thought truly fulfilled its aim was told to my class at school by an ex drug addict; his tales hardly included any effects of the actual drug taking at all.

The World is Just Awesome

The Discovery Channel has two adverts with the song “The World is Just Awesome”, showcasing both their programmes and presenters, and the wonders of the world itself. Watch the first here and the second here.

When I first saw them, the song was stuck in my head for over a week, and it led me to wonder about what I love about the world. I thought of all kinds of creatures, technology and sights, and realised that the things I find most awesome about our world are all the same things that scientists love, and love to explain and study.

On one hand, there’s David Attenborough narrating with as much awe as is possible and Brian Cox grinning like the Cheshire Cat as he explains something, both assuming and hoping that you find science just as amazing and mind blowing as they do. On the other hand, people like the crew of Brainiac and Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of MythBusters have a great time with fire and explosions, assuming and hoping that you find science just as fun as they do.

Because, when you really get down to it, almost everything that you might find amazing or fun about the world is made possible by science. All animals are here because of reproduction, and even adorable kitten faces are made of bones and muscles, ligament, blood and skin, all working perfectly. Plants are even more amazing, growing, reproducing, sometimes even eating insects. All the technology we enjoy is the creation of engineers and other scientist; the engine and aerodynamics in the racing cars, the touch screen technology and programming in the mobile gaming. And what of sights? Natural sights like waterfalls and space are the wonders scientists try to understand, and human made sights like cityscapes and the inside of computers are the wonders scientists create.

While the two adverts were encouraging viewers to watch the Discovery Channel, the concept behind them simply encourages viewers to take pleasure in the world around, in what they love, and in the things science is studying or creating. It might make us all happier people if we took the time out to take pleasure in those things. After all, the world is just awesome.

There’s an App for That!

It’s funny how suddenly apps have become part of our everyday lives, and how quickly the word has become a standard, everyday word. Not long ago, only programmers knew what apps were, and tended to call them by their full names; software applications. Apple’s App Store opened in 2008, and it was only a matter of time before all new phones, and then many computers, were app based.

At first, basic phone functions were performed with apps, but soon companies and individuals were creating apps to do all kinds of functions. The sheer amount of things you can do with apps has lead to the phrase “There’s an app for that”. There are apps for websites, such as social media sites like facebook and twitter or reference sites like dictionary and webMD. There are game apps. So many game apps. There are apps that utilise or add to phone functions, such as torch apps which turn the flash on, or apps that you can use to turn your music into ringtones. There are photography apps, allowing you to edit photos or put them through filters. There are magazine, TV and radio apps, and learning apps, for studying languages or for a driving test.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten quite a few other types of things there are apps for, but that just shows that there really are apps for almost anything. As the happy owner of a smartphone and tablet computer, I use apps every day. I find myself downloading, playing and deleting game apps on a weekly basis, and check facebook and twitter before I get out of bed most days. I use a fantastic list app to keep all my to-do lists in one place, and have almost filled my tablet with magazine apps.

Of course, not all apps are normal and useful. Some are plain ridiculous, to the extent where the person who created them would have used their time better if they watched paint dry, and they are a waste of space in the app stores that feature them. There is the Hold the Button game, which does exactly what it says on the tin. You press a button, and it times how long you do it for. There is a Taxi Hailer app, which claims to make it easy to hail a taxi by displaying a bright picture of a taxi sign, which you hold up. In the same hand you would hold up to hail a taxi in the first place. There is even an alarm clock app for iPhones, which fills the exact same function as the alarm section of the pre-installed clock.

Of course, there are more ridiculous app concepts, and on finding those examples I immediately set out to think of the stupidest, most pointless app possible. It might be an app that shows a random RGB colour each time you open it, with no option to save it or get the code. Perhaps it could be an app for recording which flavour crisps you’ve eaten. It might even be an app that keeps a list of the apps currently installed on the device. What’s sad is that it’s entirely possible that those apps exist already. If you’ve seen them, I can only offer consolation.

It’s not all bad though, it’s just far funnier for the media to focus on the worst apps. In my random browsing, I’ve found some apps that are simply genius. I’ve seen apps that keep all your passwords safe, so that you don’t have to worry about forgetting them or somebody reading them. There are a few apps for finding recipes based on the contents of your fridge and cupboards. There’s one I use almost every day; the apps that let you create and arrange to-do lists with different levels of urgency, and notifies of any urgent items.

Far more fun and surprisingly easier than thinking of ridiculous app was coming up with ideas for genius apps. As my mum says of every technology “Can it do the ironing?” There should be an app that alerts you just before you get to your tube or bus stop, for people who sleep, read or have engaging conversations on public transport. There should be an app that makes you a shopping list by remembering what you usually buy, and what you’ve probably used up since last shopping trip. As a bonus, it could remind you about seasonal foods, and search the main supermarkets for offers. There could even be an app that takes a picture and searches online to find that item for sale, and compares prices, for when someone else has something you’d like, too, or when you find something in a shop you think is overpriced. It would be fantastic if one of those ideas already existed…