Updated on January 12, 2021
As a long time fan of the Marketoonist and as a travel writer with an online presence, I am interested in all things digital and all things marketing. As mom to two young kids, I adore the Cookie Monster. But that’s not the type of cookie we are talking about here, are we?
We are talking about the small text files on your devices that allow servers to know you better. They track your behavior on sites and deliver targeted ads and guess what, many people find that creepy and annoying. So we have privacy regulations like EU’s GDPR and our own California Consumer Privacy Act to name a few. More states are coming up with their own laws as I type. So it’s not a surprise that Google plans to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser (which accounts for more than 60% of global internet use) by 2022, following in the heels of Firefox and Safari.
But first, here’s some good news from CampaignLive.com. “The digital advertising industry enters 2021 in a position of strength. Spikes in digital media consumption and ecommerce meant that digital advertising bucked global downturns across most advertising formats in 2020. As linear adspend fell by 18%, digital formats (search, video, social, banners) grew by 8% in 2020, lifting digital’s share of global advertising to 59%, according to Magna’s December report. But with a bigger share of the pie, the requirement for the digital ad industry to address how it will operate in a stricter privacy environment is now critical. Apple’s opt-in requirement for IDFA (ID for Advertisers) will come into force within the next few months, and Google Chrome will end support for third-party cookies by the end of the year.”
If you are wondering, “the IDFA is a randomly generated code that Apple assigns to a device. App developers use this code in audience targeting and to track the performance of ads across different apps and devices.”
Now let’s go back to the cookie or the lack thereof. Google has an alternative pathway called the Privacy Sandbox which will set the standards of ad targeting and measurement for the ad industry. It will rely on anonymized signals, not cookies, to get to the bottom of a particular user’s browsing habits. But marketers with a multi-media marketing strategy that uses first-party data and contextual advertising will continue to create relevant content for consumers.
As Kat Warboys (ANZ Head of Marketing at HubSpot) says, “Retailers can consider strategies or software that can better leverage first-party data like contextual advertising. While third-party data allowed you to place ads directly in front of people who matched certain user profiles, contextual advertising allows you to circulate pay per click (PPC) ads on websites that rank for similar keywords as your ad. This way, if you’re selling sports apparel, your PPC ad could show up on sports-oriented websites.”
The slow but steady demises of third-party data means that if you don’t have a direct relationship with users, you won’t have access to their data. Mikael Holcombe-Scali, Senior Business Development Manager at Semasio talked to CPO Magazine and here’s what he had to say when asked if contextual marketing ensure consumer privacy and if yes, how? “Contextual marketing concerns itself with the context and meaning of advertising environments, not the behavioral patterns of online users. Thus, it presumes the user is relevant to the advertisement without ever relying on the user’s historic behavior.”
The reaction to this Sandbox has been mixed, with some not really affected by it, while others have questioned Google’s motives and subsequently made complaints. The latter has prompted U.K.’s competition watchdog, the Competition Markets Authority (CMA) to launch an investigation which will explore whether the Privacy Sandbox will “result in a greater monopoly of the online advertising space for Google.”
CMA’s probe in turn has resulted in this statement from a Google spokesperson – “Creating a more private web, while also enabling the publishers and advertisers who support the free and open internet, requires the industry to make major changes to the way digital advertising works. The Privacy Sandbox has been an open initiative since the beginning and we welcome the CMA’s involvement as we work to develop new proposals to underpin a healthy, ad-supported web without third-party cookies.”
Well, one thing is for sure. Online targeting, ad tracking and privacy regulations are changing, and so is digital advertising as a whole. It’s growing nicely, yes. But also changing rapidly as we have been propelled into a world of zoom meetings and remote offices. School has moved online, shopping is at a click of a button and our entertainment is largely OTT (Over The Top, or in other words, it is via streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max that deliver content over the internet).
All these trends, no matter how anticipated by the marketing industry, have been shifted into an accelerated mode by Covid-19, and so has the adspend in these areas. Data remains a hot-button topic but marketers that use data to make lives easier for people (not stalk them with ads and promotions) are the ones that will endure. It’s a fine balancing act for sure but not one that’s undoable.
Updated on January 1, 2021
As we round up the year I am inclined, nay determined, to ignore all that went wrong and focus on the good stuff even as they get buried under the terrible and the mundane. No eating out, no vacations and no parties meant that our immediate surroundings felt much too familiar, and if I am being a tad dramatic, mind-numbingly boring.
So imagine my delight when I came upon Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. A cognitive scientist by profession, she walks around her Manhattan neighborhood with a series of experts – an urban sociologist, a geologist, a physician, a typography nerd, a wild-life scientist, a sound designer and an artist to name a few. She also walks with her toddler and then her dog, the playfully curious Finnegan, to get their perspectives. In this way, the familiar becomes unfamiliar, and the old the new.
I have been walking in and around our neighborhood so often this year, that I desperately need the old to become new. Although, it does help to have a spirited toddler at hand, especially around this time of the year. In October, we saw witches and ghosts, counted all the pumpkins on our neighbors’ porches and had long discussions over their exact color. These days it’s all about the bells and bows, the red and green, the twinkling lights and the roundness of the wreaths. Come Spring, there will be singing blue jays and yellow tulips.
There’s always something if we take the effort to look. Looking is an art form. Part intention, part practice. As we grow older, we learn to block out the unnecessary cognitive overload and focus our limited mental resources on the immediate task at hand. It helps us attain our goals, yes, but sometimes it’s nice to just let go.
Not one for making resolutions, but if I can begin 2021 with one thought, it will be, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put it, “the observation of trifles.” The more trivial, the better.
Updated on November 11, 2020
“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist,” wrote Richard Louv, a journalist and author of many books, the most well-known of them being Last Child in the Woods. He introduced this concept of nature-deficit disorder in children, and I daresay, he hit the nail on the head.
As humans have congregated in and around cities and our parks and playgrounds have given way to steel buildings, our children have had to do with smaller and smaller natural spaces. Add to that the lure of video games and the constant threat of a raging pandemic, and what do we have on our hands? Kids who would rather stay home. I can point you to a slew of articles on this topic, or better still, you can google them later yourselves.
Right now, I would much rather tackle the problem at hand. Winter. Is. Coming.
As you can see above, we got a little preview last week. Soon, the days will get shorter and colder, and we will find comfort in our cozy fireplaces and fuzzy blankets. And rightly so. After all, houses were built with this sole purpose in mind. To provide shelter. But here in New England, winter lingers on well into March, so how do we make sure we get enough Vitamin D during these chilly months? I, for one, have decided to take inspiration from the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv (roughly meaning “open-air living”) and this wonderful Scandinavian saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
While reading about the benefits of the outdoors, I found out that CU Boulder researchers have identified an anti-inflammatory fat in a soil-dwelling bacterium (Mycobacterium vaccae) that may help reduce stress, and in turn, make us feel happy. I have always maintained children should play outside and I would much rather have them dig for worms than learn their letters in pre-school.
This claim about the stress-busting microbe found in dirt comes thirty-one years after British scientist David Strachan coined the controversial term “hygiene hypothesis” suggesting that lack of exposure to microorganisms in childhood in our clean and modern world is the leading cause of impaired immune systems. He went further on to say that it is also responsible for higher rates of allergies and asthma in children. Both my kids have food allergies so I had dug deep into this hygiene factor way back in 2011 and truth be told, I wasn’t convinced.
Since then, researchers have refined his theory, suggesting that it’s the lack of exposure to “old friends”, that is, the beneficial microbes found in soil and not disease-causing germs, that have contributed to higher rates of allergies and such. Moreover, mental health is also altered by these old friends aka microbes.
So how do we meet these healthy microbes when it’s freezing outside? We bundle up in layers and we look for tips from explorers and athletes. I found this article Yes, Your Kids Can Play Outside All Winter by Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan to be rather helpful.
She has interviewed a bunch of professionals and among all the advice, I liked this the best – “Make sure the hands, head, heart and feet are covered; out of those, the feet are probably the most important thing,” said Pete Ripmaster, who won the 2018 Iditarod Trail Invitational 1000 on foot (a 1,000-mile winter ultramarathon that traces the route of the eponymous sled dog race across Alaska). Based in Asheville, N.C., he started winter backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains with his daughters, now 9 and 11, when the youngest was 5.
Of course, this brings us back to the Scandinavian saying – there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
This winter will have its own set of challenges and if this lovely old-school concept of friluftsliv and some friendly bacteria can make us feel better, let’s embrace it. Just make sure your hands and feet are toasty and you have plenty of hot cocoa for later. I like mine with a couple of mini-marshmallows bobbing up and down on the chocolate.
How about you?
Updated on October 20, 2020
Every year during this time, I write about apple-picking, scrunchy leaves, blazing oranges and fiery reds, pumpkin-spiced beverages and the thrill of spooky decorations. At some point it all becomes part of the same old routine – a mere backdrop for lists and errands. And soon enough, the sense of awe surrounding Autumn starts to slip away.
According to a new study by researchers at the UC San Francisco Memory and Aging Center (MAC) and the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), a regular dose of awe boosts healthy emotions such as compassion and gratitude. It’s a reminder to shift our energy outward and be aware of the expanse of life around us, be it in an urban setting or amidst nature. A rather vague emotion, although on the happier side, awe is that feeling that something is larger or more consequential than us, something unfathomable preferably. Awe is everywhere – we just need to feel it and hold on to it. Like a child exploring the world for the first time.
Children are more used to being in awe. Everything is new and wonderful to them. We went for a drive this weekend and my two year old picked up random leaves, sticks and stones until his pockets burst. It was all so precious to him. Most grown ups I know, including myself, would much sooner mull over all the chores that needed to be done before the week starts than walk around marveling at rocks.
What if, for a moment, we let go all of that and look at the world around us with fresh, childlike eyes? Pay attention to the dinosaur roaring from the clouds overhead, note the evergreen standing tall and unyielding amidst the fury of the changing colors, and once in a while, glance down to follow the bug trundling along a tall blade of grass. In short, cultivate awe. And yes, novelty helps but with the pandemic around us, we have to be content with playing tourist in our backyard.
The study and the subsequent findings are subjective as you really can’t measure a “sense of awe.” If only happiness and a sense of well-being could be prescribed so easily, and ever so simply, then we would have solved half the world’s problems. All misgivings aside, I would rather practice awe-walk instead of letting a tangle of mundane thoughts cloud my brain. With that in mind, here are some more pictures from my recent awe-walk, where I tried to focus on the here, and the now.
Updated on September 29, 2020
Anyone who lives in and around Bethel will tell you that it begins to feel like Fall when we pick up a batch or ten of Blue Jay Orchard’s Apple Cider Donuts. Yes, there’s the apples, the pumpkin patch and a farm store which sells all sorts of baked goodies, syrups, ciders, jams and even local honey, but the donut is in a class by itself. Pillowy in texture with a crunchy sugary coating and just the right amount of decadence, it embodies the very essence of the season. Sorry, pumpkin-spiced latte.
Located in the northeastern corner of the lovely little town of Bethel, this self-sustaining 122-plus acres of orchard has over 20 varieties of apples and attracts visitors from New York and New Jersey. Last Saturday the parking lot got full within hours of opening, but luckily, we were there a day earlier, on Friday.
We made a beeline for the apple trees and filled up our bag with juicy red Cortlands. I read that it took 10 years to take down the full-sized apple trees growing there and move to dwarf apple trees so as to make it easier for us visitors to reach. They were not offering wagon rides this year and rightfully so but other regulars like the tractor and the height chart were there to give us a much-needed sense of normalcy in these abnormal times.
We usually stay longer but this year was different. We wandered around less, remained conscious of maintaining distance with the other visitors especially those without masks, and of course, we didn’t spend as much time in the store.
With everything changing around us, it’s nice to have this constant, this same old friendly orchard with its same old apples. Same old me going through tons of apple recipes before deciding on apple muffins. Same as we did last year and the one before that and so on. It’s a tradition in the making, and a beautiful Bethel one at that.
Updated on September 18, 2020
“Lovers. Oh that word bums me out unless it’s between meat and pizza,” said Liz Lemon in 30 Rock. I agree wholeheartedly. Same, Liz, same.
Legend has it that Princess Lillinonah, daughter of Chief Waramaug, canoed to her death into the “Great Falls” when her white lover failed to return. In true Romeo and Juliet fashion, he arrived just in time to see her in the waters and leapt to his death in an attempt to save her.
Located in southern New Milford, this historic 140 acre park started taking shape in 1971 when Catherine Hurd bequeathed her 52 acre estate to the State of Connecticut for use as a public park. In 2001, more land was added by EverSource, then known as Connecticut Light & Power, when it sold the adjoining acres to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
For very little effort we reached this serene lookout and spotted a couple of kayaks from our vantage point up there. A trail system and the Housatonic River join forces throughout the park, while an old railroad abutment provides a nice fishing spot, and best of all, there’s a kayak/canoe rest area.
Below are a few more pics from the hike.
As one of only four iron lenticular truss bridges remaining in Connecticut, the Falls Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company in 1895, it’s a pretty sight and if you look closer, it has little locks on it put in by visitors. Lovers, maybe. Ugh. That dreaded word again.
If you go, aim for early morning to avoid the crowds. It saddens me to say that people have left trash at some places, and when we were on our way back to the parking lot, we saw a group that didn’t exactly seem interested in hiking. As this pandemic continues to take over our lives, hiking is one of the few activities left that can be enjoyed out of doors, but we can do so only if people are mindful of others and follow the Leave No Trace (LNT) policy.
So please, leave no trace.
Updated on August 26, 2020
Last weekend we went for a hike in our home state and as I looked at the photos, Maria Popova’s now famous words Build pockets of stillness into your life kept coming back to me. Being still is an adventure in itself and not easily achievable, especially with a to-do list that keeps on growing and restless kids. But one can try.
So try we did.
It was glorious. She is right, folks. Build pockets of stillness into your life.
Updated on August 17, 2020
As summer keeps rolling on, taking with it bit by bit the late sunsets and early sunrises, we seem to treasure our staycation more and more. We didn’t go to Maine as is the norm most summer, but instead, we played tennis and explored our home state of Connecticut.
Along with the rest of the world, we are trying to make the best of 2020, a year stripped down to the bare basics. A year of quiet contemplation for some, and untold hardships for others. For some of us, it’s a bit of both.
Waveny House, also known as Waveny Castle and “the Big House” was entrusted to the Town of New Canaan by Ruth Lapham Lloyd in 1967. As with most big houses of that era, it came with an entire estate, which today, consists of 300 acres of fields, ponds, and trails. The vastness came in handy for the purpose of social-distancing.
You know what else it is good for? Racing with your eight-year-old. I even made it to his journal. See the look of determination on my face in the beginning and then compare it to my look at the end. I was this close to winning you see!
Remember Doc from Back to the Future and Uncle Fester in The Addams Family? Well, Doc aka Christopher Lloyd is Ruth’s youngest child and has fond memories of spending a lot of time in these woods with his pal Ricky, a German shepherd. Apparently, he used to paddle around the pond and collect snakes and bring them back to the house. Our two-year-old picked up a few pebbles and have since made a small pile in the trunk of our car. When it comes to collections, to each their own.
Back then, Doc had 450 acres of wilderness to explore and almost no interaction with neighbors. In the interview that I read, he doesn’t mention coyotes (we saw a sign for them) but he does talk about his fascination with snakes. Had there been a chance encounter with either species, we would have been equally terrified and may have unanimously voted to stay indoors the rest of summer.
Later on, his mother, Ruth, gave away parts of the land to the Talmadge Hill train station, the Waveny Health Care Center and New Canaan High School. From what I understand, she was charitable by nature, as she also donated $750,000 to the New Canaan Library and $3 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was in the 1970s, when the Met was facing financial hardships. If nothing, I am thankful to her for saving a place like the Met, which is entangled with a lot of happy memories, and boy, do we need those more than ever now!
Waveny Park was owned by Thomas Wells Hall from 1894 to 1904. In 1904, Ruth’s father, Lewis Henry Lapham, director of United States Leather and a co-founder of the Texaco Oil Company, bought the property as a summer estate, renamed it Waveny, and expanded it from 280 acres to 450 acres.
If you are wondering why the Laphams renamed it Waveny, it’s because their ancestry can be traced back to Devonshire in southwestern England, wherein flowed the Waveney River, and so Lewis Henry Lapham’s wife Antoinette named it the Waveny Farm.
The only wildlife we encountered was a kaleidoscope of butterflies in the garden pictured above, and on our way back, it wasn’t easy reaching a consensus on the exact number of butterflies we saw. Two-year-old said 3 and eight-year-old maintained a strong 20.
If you happen to go there for a stroll, let me know how many butterflies you encounter.
Updated on May 31, 2020
Rearrange-the-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic means “to do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem” and it neatly sums up how I feel all the time these days. Then I read Emily Flake’s I Was In Charge Of The Deck Chairs On The Titanic, And They Absolutely Did Need Rearranging on the one and only Mc.Sweeney’s Internet Tendency and it pretty much set me right.
She reminds us how the seemingly meaningless things that we do every day matters. They matter a lot. So much so that sometimes it’s all we have. Even when the world as we know is changing, people are getting sick and economies are crumbling.
She ends the piece with these poignant lines “Your efforts matter as much as they always did, which is to say not one little tiny bit, except that they are the most precious of things — they are your heart. Take care of your heart, my friends, and I shall see you on the other side.”
I took heart in her words and I plodded on.
You must be thinking, what’s a travel writer gonna do when all travel is canceled? What’s a mom gonna do when school drop offs have been replaced by online learning and a glance-over at your kid before he signs in on that Google Meet?
No weekend plans. No sports. The list is long. But I can’t complain. There are people out there who are doing so much more. Contributing in so many ways. And not just health workers and grocery store people. That friend who offered to do her neighbor’s shopping. That person who gave that extra large tip. The delivery guy who went the extra mile. The neighbor who left a box of books by the door. Or a bag of flour. Or a tall bottle of wine.
Memorial Day Weekend, the great summer-starter came and went with little fanfare. We didn’t grill. Maybe it had something to do with the weather but we did do a bagel taste test. We kneaded the dough and baked our own bagels. Then we went nuts with the toppings. Classics like lox and cream cheese were set aside in favor of variety and fun.
After much deliberation, our eight-year-old ever-so-slightly biased judge picked the cheddar cheese and chicken sausages as the winner.
Top from left we have chicken sausage with sun-dried tomatoes on shredded cheddar cheese, then on the right we have honey and sea-salt over ricotta cheese, in the middle we have almond butter and strawberry jam, followed by cherry tomatoes and window-sill scallions on olive tapenade hummus. The last row has slow-roasted spicy salmon leftovers with scallions and lastly, a liberal sprinkling of TJ’s famous bagel seasoning over soft-boiled eggs.
Top from left there’s sliced avocado with some more of the famous seasoning, then a bagel top to show how proud I was of the shape, then there’s fig butter on the middle left, after which comes the strawberry with cream cheese, followed by cucumbers and butter, and finally, black olives on hummus.
If you are thinking, what’s the point of all this? It’s all part of rearranging those damn deck chairs. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
The lockdown (self-imposed or otherwise) has given rise to so many artists getting together to entertain kids. There’s too many of them for me to mention everyone but there’s #DrawTogether with WendyMac – a 30-minute live drawing class for kids. I ignored the kids part and drew a dragon with her. My kids have been entrusted with building a story around this fiery self-sufficient dragon.
Again, that’s me rearranging deck chairs.
There’s Mo Willems with his Lunch Doodles and Thank You Thursdays. There’s J.K. Rowling with a new book Ickabog that’s being released chapter by chapter online! As an unabashed Harry Potter fan, I am excited about it.
Speaking of books, my mother has this amazing collection. She would often pick out books for me to read at an age when I was mostly into Enid Blytons and didn’t care for much else. When I was in first or second grade, she gave me a copy of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. On my behest, she had marked all the comedies so I could get started on those first. I had no intention of reading “sad stories” but then I got hooked and read everything. And not just once.
So imagine my utter delight when I watched this Netflix Original recommended by my aunt and found that Tales from Shakespeare, my book, has been converted into a magnificent plot device. The movie’s name is quite a mouthful. It’s called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and it’s simply lovely. It has made me go look for Anne Bronte’s work. Turns out this lesser known of the Bronte sisters was a bit of a genius in her own right.
While on the subject of dark geniuses, Fleabag on Prime and Dead to Me on Netflix warranted some binge-watching on my part. They are not everyone’s cup of tea but oh so good!
Go watch them, or draw with Mo, or make music with Yo-Yo Ma (he is playing live on Facebook often these days) or write or do whatever it is you feel like doing. Nothing matters and everything does.
Updated on April 11, 2020
I am going to do the unthinkable and begin my post with a quote. Friedrich Nietzsche once said “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” While I don’t know about that, what I am certain about is that he wasn’t talking about neighborhood strolls with a couple of kids who have been cooped up at home for more than a month now.
I know we are immensely lucky to be able to hunker down when there are people out there risking their lives on a daily basis. My two year old doesn’t know that. Neither does the neighbor’s dog. So our walks often consist of each of us making sure that our dogs and kids maintain the appropriate distance of six feet while simultaneously squealing at each other.
My eight year old is perpetually bored. I tried telling him that boredom inspires greatness and how Neil Gaiman has advised wannabe writers to “get bored” and then I showed him this passage from Nicholas Carr’s blog –
“We don’t like being bored because boredom is the absence of engaging stimulus, but boredom is valuable because it requires us to fill that absence out of our own resources, which is process of discovery, of doors opening. The pain of boredom is a spur to action, but because it’s pain we’re happy to avoid it. Gadgetry means never having to feel that pain, or that spur. The web expands to fill all boredom. That’s dangerous for everyone, but particularly so for kids, who, without boredom’s spur, may never discover what in themselves or in their surroundings is most deeply engaging to them.”
He nodded in agreement and went back to playing Minecraft. So as is the norm, we had to persuade him to accompany us for the afore-mentioned walk. Then we convinced him to wear a jacket, Spring being that in-between New England season where winter jackets are a tad too much but there’s still a hint of chilliness in a sudden gust of wind.
We have contemplated leaving him behind, but he is only eight years old and he needs the fresh air and exercise. I know what you are thinking, yes, dogs are easier. They like walks. So do toddlers. They are usually excited about the littlest of things like shoes and walks, but of course, they are also just as easily frustrated when things don’t go their way. Like when you try holding their hand during a particularly steep downhill stretch of the road that they would rather just tumble down?
So, to make the walk more bearable and somewhat less dangerous, we did a scavenger hunt inspired by an Instagram post from Earthplace.
We looked out for bugs, found rocks and twigs, compared colors of leaves, looked up at the cloud-filled sky and picked up acorns. We paid attention. And when you pay attention, the mundane becomes magic.
Some people have this gift, they can easily find beauty in the everyday. Much like Jason Polan, who was working on drawing every person in New York (he drew over 30,000 people) and whose book Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art is an American treasure. He walked around with his pen and paper, drew what he saw, and by doing so he made the unremarkable remarkable.
We, on the other hand, took photos of what we saw. It kept the kids busy for a while. But still, there was no room for “truly great thoughts” as envisioned by Nietzsche. Most of our thoughts revolved around all the hand-washing and disinfecting that would follow this short expedition.