How Books Save Us- A Pondering by Karen Brooks

How Books Save Us- A Pondering by Karen Brooks

Written by Karen Brooks

Here we are at the tail end of a year that, in its numerical configuration alone (2020) promised so much.

Instead of clarity, pragmatism and all the other positive meanings that arise when we used to think of 2020, many of us have encountered sickness, death, loss of income, stability, isolation, family crises, never mind sadness, fear, and familial, social and state divisions. 

Throughout these long months, the arts – music, dance, poetry, prose, films, TV, clips and events on social media etc – have played an enormous role in helping us cope with the harsh reality of Covid-19 and its fallout – including the endless dismal and doom-laden news-cycle. This has enabled us to appreciate, perhaps in ways we haven’t before, the integral role the arts play in helping us understand and define what it is to be human.  

Books and fiction especially provide a measure of unquantifiable comfort in harrowing times.

 

They allow readers to escape, even briefly, the cruel or mundane veracity of the everyday and walk vicariously in someone else’s shoes, to safely experience their emotions and undergo a journey that, more often than not, resolves in a satisfying way.

More than just bibliotherapy (which is how the psychological and emotional consolation books offer is sometimes described), books can be personally transformative and, most certainly, transportative as well.

After all, when the going seems tough, there’s always a story to fall into, a lexical journey to embark upon, and sometimes quite literally lose yourself in.

According to recent studies, reading has increased anywhere from 37% – 41% during  the pandemic.

While some folk sought eschatological narratives (end of the world scenarios) in order to perhaps channel their own fears, others turned to the classics, re-read old favourites, reached for their enormous TBR piles – some of which contained books they’d been promising themselves for decades (War and Peace anyone?), found the time to increase their knowledge around certain topics (racism, politics, history etc), or took the opportunity to read genres they’ve never tried before.  

One British study simplified people’s choices as those who “read for exploration and those who re-read for safety”.  

At home, curled up in a chair or in bed, reading of other people, periods and places, is a panacea that both soothes the soul and fires the imagination. It reminds us that while we might be doing it hard (whether that’s because of the pandemic, loss, grief, sad memories, poor health, relationship issues, anger, parenthood etc), struggling or triumphing, these are what humans have done since time immemorial. We’re remarkably resilient. Sometimes, the only way to recognise and appreciate that characteristic, to understand we too will get through this, is within fiction.  

What’s evident is that books offer something few other options can: they’re the word equivalent of comfort food and we’re hungry for it.

Gratitude for what creative artists have given us during lockdown – through their books, art, music, film, dance, TV, social media, cyber-performance etc – has been loud and clear right around the world. What a pity our government cannot acknowledge the importance of the arts and artistes; their intrinsic social, cultural and personal value, choosing instead to cut funding to important bodies and prizes, or offer meagre and competitive grants and loans – and at a time when both the creators and the grateful public need the arts most.

Creative artists are both inventors and curators of culture, of our collective imaginations and hearts. Their work worms its way into our souls and minds, becoming part of individual histories, our memories; they’re a short-cut to a moment in time, even to a version of ourselves we no longer recognise – for better and worse.

Books allow us to escape the nightmare of the present (or past) and dream of other spaces, possibilities; of different ways of being. They enable us to move beyond the present and imagine a different future and even, in our darkest moments, a better one.

About Karen: 

 Dr. Karen Brooks: is an Author,  columnist, social commentator and academic. Karen is also a part of a gorgeous brewery in Tasmania with her partner. The brewery and the authory keep her busy!

www.karenrbrooks.com

Twitter: KarenBrooksAU

Associate Professor and Honorary Senior Research Fellow IASH, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland.

Join Karen for great conversations and sharing on FaceBook: Karen Brooks Author – love to have you!

 

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Radical Tech Companies Helping and Not Commodifying Humanity

Radical Tech Companies Helping and Not Commodifying Humanity

Written by Kirsten Macdonald

Artificial intelligence is the art of a computing system making decisions with the capability of performing tasks without human prompting.

This entails assembling and evolving algorithms so quickly and seamlessly, it is a form of intelligence. Now more intelligent according to the experts than us. This is not a plot to a movie; this is the internet space of twenty-twenty. Did you get the notification? 

Seamless algorithms are a welcome agency when you are saving lives, sending information, access to education or assisting in times of crisis along with the capacity for positive social cohesion. Algorithmic designs can be like a beautiful mathematical dance of logic and coding genius. However, when used for persuasive techniques designed to capitalize on human weakness for profits we have on our hands a superpower, only a few have access to with unclear rules. A problematic dilemma one might say. 

To protect our privacy rights, our democratic freedoms, we require a code of binding and global guidelines and laws, A.K.A- ethics.

However, the chicken has come before the egg, and the horse has bolted out of the computer basement. There are currently no AI codes of conduct legally binding across the planet to protect people. Psychological growth hacking is a booming economy amongst players who are aware of what lurks beneath but do it anyway. 

Elon Musk says AI is the greatest existential threat to humanity. Where is Sarah Connor when you need her? 

Don’t panic, no need for tin foil hats just yet. Whilst some seek to profit to the detriment of our human frailties, there are those seeking to create ethical standards. In addition to a flourish of intuitive courage, there are humans ahead of the curve. There are technologists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, investors, and others who are deeply committed to humane technology. Platform founders not only ethical on purpose but with purpose with the precise intent of restoring integrity. So what does this mean exactly? 

It means using technology and building algorithms ethically, and in a way to enhance humanity, not harm it. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, AI should be used in ways that comply with human rights law, and AI should be used in ways that minimise harm, improving our lives. We ponder two standouts in the tech sphere doing it with finesse. 

Next Address

 

Next Address is a real estate platform that has taken centre stage in disruptive prop-tech is one such hero. The buyer-seller platform has the unique intent not to destroy in the disruption process but rather to enhance and develop the models on offer. 

Founder Julie O’Donohue says “authentic relationships and radical transparency drive every action at Next Address. This is the only way we are going to bring positive change to the real estate sector. A sector much maligned for many years but a sector that all of us need to use. We saw algorithms would streamline processes and activities, and they do. But ethics are core; we use our algorithms as a tool to enable people and not to manipulate or feed the attention economy. Our algorithms match data between buyers and sellers. We do not use these clients data for any other purpose than connecting the buyers and sellers. Our proprietary technology reduces transaction costs and saves our clients money.” You can find out more about Next Address Here

 

Bounce

 

Bounce is an app empowering people via positive psychology. It is an app and an intuitive bot hybrid designed to boost optimism, increase resilience, build connections, meet goals in real life. Their catchphrase is “Practice positive thinking, and learn to notice and expect the good things in life.”

Founded by friends Christopher Weeks and Alastair Byrne, their mission is inspiring. According to Chris, they started Bounce because:

“A large number of our friends, family and close ones were suffering from mental health issues, and we found that solutions were often reactive, heavy handed and hard to access. We wanted to create something better. We wanted to create something that would take a preventative approach to mental health, while being simple, easy to access and available to anyone, anywhere at any time. We wanted a solution that is fun and engaging, while removing some of the stigma surrounding mental health. Everyone has mental health and everyone needs to look after it. Finally, we wanted our work to be based on science and help push the boundaries of mental health research.”

You can read more about them here: https://medium.com/bounce,mind/bounce-the-start-of-the-journey-to-better-mental-health-4010f1ebfe1a

We look to the future where more leaders like these make the brave step to forge AI and ethical algorithms focussed on people and positive outcomes rather than a business model with a profit first people second mentality. The possibilities give us hope. 

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Children’s Book to Help Children and Young People Cope with COVID-19

Children’s Book to Help Children and Young People Cope with COVID-19

A new children’s book aiming to help children understand and come to terms with COVID-19 has come to life, created by a collaboration of over 50 organizations working in the humanitarian sector.

Organizations like the World Health Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Federation of Red Cross, Red Crescent Societies, Save the Children and the United Nations Children’s Fund. 

With a little help from Ario, fantasy creature, “My Hero is You, How kids can fight COVID-19!” illustrates how children can protect themselves, their families and friends from coronavirus and how to manage difficult emotions when confronted with a new and rapidly changing reality. 

The book – aimed primarily at children aged 6-11 years old – is a project of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings, a unique collaboration of United Nations agencies providing mental health and psychosocial support in emergency settings. 

Over 1700 children and parents, caregivers, teachers and aides from across the globe shared their experiences along with how they were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. The input was an invaluable component to writer and illustrator Helen Patuck in ensuring the story resonated with children from all over the world; with inclusivity the key focus. 

Henrietta Fore, the executive director at UNICEF says; 

“All over the world, children’s lives have been completely upended — the majority of them living in countries with some form of restricted movement or lockdown. This wonderful book helps children understand and navigate this new landscape and learn how they can take small actions to become the heroes in their own stories.”

 

In order to reach as many children as possible, the book will be translated, with six language versions released and more than 30 others in the pipeline. It is being released as both an online product and audiobook. Click here for the audio version: AUDIO 

 

Click here to access your copy https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/system/files/2020-04/My%20Hero%20is%20You%2C%20Storybook%20for%20Children%20on%20COVID-19.pdf

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We Celebrate People Shining Hope On Mental Health

We Celebrate People Shining Hope On Mental Health

As World Mental Health Day arrives, it is more timely than ever to reflect on the societal conditions the global pandemic has swept in with it.

Whilst the serious impacts continue to reverberate around the globe, for some the abrupt changes to working environments have presented hope. You see there are those holding a torch high for others in the darkened halls of the pandemic isolation. 

Cheryl Stevens from atWork Australia is just one of these torchbearers. 

The Employer Engagement Consultant is passionate about spreading awareness on World Mental Health Day.

 

“Throughout my life, I have witnessed people around me struggle with mental health issues. I’ve seen how deeply it can affect people and how with the right support, how much their lives can improve, so I aspire to spread awareness so that those who are facing difficult times can reach out and get the help they need” says Cheryl. 

 

Recent studies have presented exciting possibilities for those with mental health conditions and employment opportunities. According to atWork Australia, there has been a 52% rise in people finding work during September, compared to March of this year. This is a surprising and positive sign in a time riddled with fear around employment. Lockdown conditions are driving consumers to local-centric purchasing behaviour, and the demand for jobs suited to people living with mental health conditions is rising according to atWork Australia sources. 

“It’s rewarding to see someone grow and gain enough self-confidence to build a future to look forward to. I feel excited and proud to be a part of their journey” says Cheryl. 

 “In Victoria, we are seeing the biggest number of roles that are relevant for our clients living with mental health conditions, since the start of COVID-19. These range from opportunities for baristas and kitchen hands, to warehousing pick packers and supermarket delivery drivers,” 

 Cheryl was inspired to join atWork Australia after she discovered their motto “Nothing is more powerful than getting the right person into the right job” and saw the difference they were making in people’s lives. 

 “We recently placed a 23-year-old client who had been applying for work for 72 weeks, while going through coaching to manage his condition, low self-esteem and social anxiety. After more than 18 months of hard work, he was able to get his first-ever job within a local warehouse during Victoria’s hardest lockdown. This is the type of impact the changing job landscape is creating.”

 “Generally, employers aren’t concerned about a candidate’s mental health condition and are focused on what they can bring to the job,” continues Cheryl. 

 “In fact, one company owner asked if there was an opportunity to hire more people with mental health conditions, or people living with a disability, as she found they were harder working and more engaged in the business,” she adds. 

 World Mental Health Day provides an opportunity for businesses to ponder on how they adopt opportunities like this in their business and positively impact the lives of others. Inclusivity and diversity are calling you Ponderers! 

 

Resources: 

 

atWork Australia: https://www.atworkaustralia.com.au/des/ 

 

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/ 

 

World Mental Health Day https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/world-mental-health-day-2020

 

Lifeline Australia 13 11 14

 

You can also text 0477 13 11 14 from 12 pm to midnight for support. 

About atWork Australia Disability Employment Services

atWork Australia is a leading employment services provider working with Australians in over 300 locations across the nation. atWork Australia’s Disability Employment Services support people with disability, injury, illness or mental health condition to find the right job with the right employer.

To do that, the team work with people to identify their goals and aspirations, build skills and job-readiness, and coach them through interviews and into employment – as well as work with prospective employers to support and help them realise the benefits of employing a diverse workforce. In short, the team’s approach is to support a person in the way that most helps them transform their life.

atWork Australia are committed to providing truly excellent employment support services, making a real difference to people’s lives and helping employers find truly great people for their business.

 

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Olympic Sport; The Birds Eye View of Art

Olympic Sport; The Birds Eye View of Art

Written by Montanna Macdonald

Have you ever wondered what sports look like from a bird’s eye view?

Well, this is what Sydney Based photographer Brad Walls set out to explore. 

Brad Walls, known as Bradscanvas, is an aerial photographer. Keeping it unique with drone photography, Brad adds flair to scenes such as sport; showing the art form of us. Winning the Skypixel awards for his synchronised swimming team photo series this year, Brad explores a different perspective of Olympic sports like tennis, ice skating, gymnastics and synchronised swimming. Not only sport, but Brad also photographs the world from the eye of the sky that genuinely leaves you in awe; Imagery using symmetry and majestic patterns creating art with geometric flair.

We pondered, how does Brad get these fantastic shots from above so perfectly? And also, maybe there should be cameras from above more often rather than just side on in sports to appreciate the beauty we may have never noticed? 

Ponderings had the pleasure of talking with Brad about his incredible photo skills.

Where did your photography journey start? What do you love about the art form?

As a teenager, I was quite creative, borrowing friends’ cameras, playing with 3d software, building stuff with my hands and generally being a curious kid. It wasn’t until I bought a drone that I began to take it seriously. I started with video snippets of clips for Instagram, but it was a lot of work and didn’t enjoy the process as much as working on one photographic composition. I’m drawn to photography as it has the ability to blend creative concepts and the real world, creating a hybrid environment to let your mind wander but also being quite grounded truly.   

What led you to do aerial photography and sport and Olympic photography? 

Aerial photography provided a realm of new opportunity within the photography space. A space, which I believe has lacked creative innovation. 

The sports series was inspired by the shapes from above. When thinking and exploring, many sports provided those shapes that without an aerial perspective may have never been exposed. As you can see from the synchronised swimming, ice skaters and gymnasts series, all of which offered new and intriguing perspectives.

What is your creative process to deciding what you will photograph and how from an aerial view? 

My creative process is varied; it could come from out in the everyday world and spotting a moment or a structure and wondering what that could look like from above. Or it may be looking on google earth and spotting something that may look beautiful from the air; this method worked particularly well with my’ pools from above’.

Ultimately, it comes down to curiosity, as an artist, you constantly need to be curious, questioning “what could be.”

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Can you share with our Ponderers some of your favourite photo series from your works and the meaning behind them, we see you have just released a new series called “pools from above”? 

Great question and obviously a very hard one to answer as each series has their own identity. However, the pools from the above series are my favourite. 

The pools from above series sparked a transition in my aesthetic and deep understanding of composition. I remember spending hours trying to perfect this image named “A Palm Springs Ting” on my Instagram “It must have taken me 50 edits to get that image to sing, but that learning process was the foundation of the entire series. I cannot stress the importance of failing time after time to find a winning formula. 

Do you have any new series in the works? 

I am continually working on my “pools from above” series, working towards a coffee table book in the near future. 

I’m in the middle of launching a series with an Australian Ballerina, which has been very popular with viewers. Watch out on my Instagram for that to drop. 

Could you please share with us one of your favourite photo series concepts you have done, and why it is a favourite?

That concept would be the upcoming release with the Australian Ballerina. It’s my favourite because I loved the experience of being pushed to try a perspective that hadn’t been attempted before, and ultimately that is what drives me to do what I do.

Brad’s upcoming Australian Ballerina series is a beautiful perspective that we know you ponderers will appreciate, as well as the many other creative shots Brad captures. You can check out his Instagram @bradscanvas

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Melbourne Social Media Series: The Business Pivot

Melbourne Social Media Series: The Business Pivot

Written by Renae Failla

How are businesses pivoting and diversifying their product range during COVID-19 to re-emerge stronger than ever?

 

Westpac’s SME COVID-19 response report revealed that 49 per cent of Australian small businesses have changed the way they function due to the COVID-19 hit. For most this has been in the form of adding additional products and services 29%, shifting business to online 21% and transferring the focus of their business 19%.

 

With a plethora of new businesses popping up during the last couple of months and the diversification of almost every business, we have been noting the trends.

 

Shift to online

 

Firstly, although we do live in a digital age – it is interesting to note that pre-COVID many businesses did not have an online presence. Considering your local cafe, butcher, florist or supermarket – many shoppers were so accustomed to visiting the store and deciding what they wanted to buy on the spot, however, there has now been a forced shift to online.

 

Australian Study conducted by McKinsey & Co surveying Australian customers suspects that post COVID-19 or during a COVID Normal 25%-65% of customers will make a portion of their purchases online in most categories while 70 -145% anticipate they will make all of their purchases online. This spans not only groceries, apparel and household supplies but also makeup, snacks, alcohol etc.

 

Small business tip: Websites such as Wix, WordPress, Squarespace and Shopify are becoming a must for small businesses to rise in the online space.

 

Identify and push products within your business that meet current consumer needs

It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 Pandemic has forced a sudden shock on consumption and consumer spending with partial and total lockdowns all around the world. This has resulted in a change in what consumers are buying and prioritising which is consequentially pushing businesses and retailers to adapt and push products that weren’t normally selling as well.

Namely, there has been an identifiable increase in the purchasing of loungewear, candles, masks, care packages, graze boxes, pre-packed groceries and takeaway items as consumers seek convenience and value with stay at home orders. Many businesses are recognising this need and the products they already have to centre marketing campaigns around this.

One retailer that is paving the way and demonstrating its adaptability, placing relevant products front of mind to their consumers is The Iconic.

Now including a #StayHome section – you are able to find all relevant items such as workout wear, WFH footwear and even face masks all in one unique hub.

A shoutout to small business in Metro Melbourne, Mini-Me Mango @minimemango cafe who have managed to utilise their current staff members to do free delivery within 5km of the store. Noticeably with tighter restrictions, they have also expanded their takeaway menu offering and pushed items like their vegan donuts which are a perfect gift for #isobirthdays.

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Change/add to your product range

For other businesses, the pandemic has forced the introduction of additional product ranges and offerings to majorly pivot and remain operable at this time of uncertainty.

Harvard Business Review advises that a pivot to the product range and offering for restaurants could be “to offer a flat rate for a set number of meals per week or per month, with limited menu choices” or “to offer a combination of precooked dishes with sides or additions that could be prepared at home using ingredients supplied by the restaurant. The restaurant could send a link to a video that walks the customer through preparation, thus incorporating an experiential and learning element.”

This pivot has successfully been undertaken by a local Italian restaurant who hit the nail on the head for Father’s Day, offering customers a ‘homemade cannoli kit’, keeping the brand front of mind and ensuring their customers felt as if they were eating cannoli together in the restaurant.

In the same way, businesses from all categories learnt to respond to the shortage of face masks and sanitiser around the world and jumped on the trend quickly – especially with the introduction of mandatory face masks in many places.

Open a new business based on new talents

Stay at home orders and significant job losses have urged people to become more creative, trying new things and learning new talents that have eventuated to a surge in new small businesses.

In fact, the ABC reports, “There were 253,529 new business names registered between January and July this year, compared with 222,516 over the same period last year,” proving how individuals have become more malleable and adaptable than ever to hasten future ideas and dreams.

CCIWA chief economist Aaron Morey has indicated that they are now seeing startups that respond to changing consumer demands as well as a surge in consultancy type businesses.

Small business tip: If you have started creating your own candles in your garage, learnt how to arrange aesthetically pleasing platters for graze boxes or been busy sewing garments throughout the night – now is the time to take that plunge and carry out your dreams.

If you have either started a new business, diversified your product range or shifted to online during the COVID-19 pandemic we would love to hear your success stories! And if you’re busy working on your new Business Strategy and need someone to ramp up your Social Media strategy post COVID-19, Melbourne Social Media can help! To get in touch, email renaelaurenfailla@gmail.com or call 0448 875 934.

Instagram: @melbournesocialmedia

References

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