The Ultimate Startup Song: Once in a Lifetime

The startup culture is fascinating. A world of vision, hard work, talent, innovation, fame and daring. The dream of going from rags to riches and the reality of losing it all. The biggest roller-coaster of the twenty-first century economy. The (upper) middle-class kids’ version of becoming Pelé.

Swedish serial entrepreneur Hjalmar Winbladh, whose latest startup is Wrapp

That’s why ‘Once in a Lifetime’ by Talking Heads is the ultimate startup theme song:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

The live version from Stop Making Sense (1984) remains a classic.

Even if the daring youths meet their comeuppance trying to make big business, there’s still hope. They just gotta figure it out again. Because in this brave new world, even failures count. How to get your act together after a fiasco? Get your tip from Talking Heads:

Water dissolving and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean
Remove the water, carry the water
Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, into silent water
Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground
Letting the days go by, into silent water
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

‘Once in a Lifetime’ was the lead single of Talking Heads’ the 1980 album Remain in Light. The single did not make it to the top of the charts, but became popular thanks to this video featuring David Bryne’s fresh dance moves inspired by his choreographer, Toni Basil, who showed him footage of epilepsy sufferers.



OK, but what does it mean?

Okay, OK is the most frequently used word, especially post-internet revolution. But what does it mean? On the internet it means ‘go on’, ‘submit’, ‘save’, ‘next.’ ‘Alright’, ‘well’, ‘go on’, or ‘fine’ in daily speech. Was this always the case? Where does okay come from?

The accepted etymology of the word gives OK as the abbreviation of Old Kinderhook, the nickname of the eight president of the United States, Martin Van Buren (1782–1862; in office 1837–1841). The name sounds so Dutch, right? Van Buren was the first American president who wasn’t of English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh descent. In fact the only American president who did not have English as his first language, for he was Dutch. Some other prominent presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush also had Dutch ancestry, but none like Van Buren, who grew up speaking Dutch in the village of Kinderhook, New York and never lost his distinctive Dutch accent.

Photograph of the late Martin Van Buren by Mathew Brady from circa 1855-1858

Martin Van Buren was nicknamed Old Kinderhook in reference to the village where he grew up. In the presidential election campaign of 1840, the Democratic Party candidate Van Buren and his supporters used OK as an election slogan. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one group within the party, The Democratic O.K. Club, gave the abbreviation its currency. Other sources claim that Van Buren used it as a slogan back in the 1836 campaign, which brought him to power. However, this etymology, which was established by Allen Walker Read and accepted by the greatest dictionary of English language, is contested.

The folk singer Pete Seeger sang in the sixties:

‘You know this language that we speak,
is part German, Latin and part Greek
Celtic and Arabic all in a heap,
well amended by the people in the street.
Choctaw gave us the word “okay”‘

In the sixties the widely accepted etymology of okay related it to the Choctaw ‘okeh.’ Until 1961, the Webster dictionary gave the following etymology for the word: ‘Prob. fr. Choctaw okeh it is so and not otherwise.’ The Choctaw etymology of OK goes back to 1825. The substantial treatment of ‘okey’ can be found in a Choctaw Grammar from 1870. According to the grammar, it meant ‘it is so and in no other way’ used as an interjection to get the attention of the user. When spoken more quietly it meant ‘thank you.’

In the 1960s, Allen Read, a Columbia University professor and the editor of the scholarly American Speech journal, was trying to establish a different etymology, based on his discovery about Martin Van Buren and the Democratic O.K. Club. Some experts disagreed with Read, for instance the editor of the Dictionary of American English (DAE), who published a paper in American Speech. He argued that “Old Kinderhook” was not the origin of the expression and that it was not a significant component of the etymology. In turn, Read published six papers in American Speech between 1963-1964.

Jim Fay, an American English etymology specialist, presented plausible evidence to reestablish the native American etymology of OK. Fay argued that Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States between 1829–1837, was the one gave the word its currency. According to Fay, OK was a slogan standing for ‘orl korrect’, a humorous form of ‘all correct’ or ‘Oll Korrect’. Jackson established his career in the frontier zone and the word OK is attested several times in his papers. Choctaw was the lingua franca of the southern and western frontier, which played an important role in the shaping of American political culture. Another frontier notable was John Jacob Astor, the first American millionaire, who owed his wealth to fur trade, which put him in contact with Native Americans. Astor used the word OK to confirm business transactions from 1839 until his death in 1848.

Andrew Jackson photographed on April 15, 1845 by Mathew Brady

Fay argued that Read only acknowledged evidence about Choctaw etymology in order to refute it. Allen Read treated the evidence as the folklore of the word. Fay argued that Read preferred the Van Buren etymology because it represented the language of ‘godliness and civilization’ as opposed to Choctaw, which was associated with drunkenness, ignorance and immorality.

Whether you accept the Van Buren or Choctaw etymology, it is okay!

Pinteresting Changes in Consumer Culture

If blogging led to early-onset writer delusion in a portion of the population that never suffered from it before, Pinterest is the domain of the visually literate. It says kudos to all those who asked ‘How do you read such thick books with no pictures?’ Users board images into cute piles of colour, metaphorical structures (bridges, tunnels, and doors), hairstyles, nails, typography, illustrations, and package design… It is possible to pin videos as well, yet most of the pins are images.

Most Pinterest boards are visual lollipops for grown women

Although the gender and age profile differs from country to country, Pinterest is the first major social media tool where women are the majority. Earlier this year, 83% of the US users were women, with the typical age range between 35-44. In Great Britain, 56% of the users were male and their age profile was more youthful, on average 10 years younger than in the US. Since there are more users from the States, the average pinterest user is a career woman or housewife in her late thirties. There are also quite a few creative types active on Pinterest, but the majority of users look like the desperate housewives turned quaint. This stereotypical profile has a great influence on the popular user from other countries, as following boards and repinning images is the basic mode of user interaction on Pinterest. Given the age-gender profile, it is surprising to see a lot more logo, typography, and package design collectors than you’d expect. There are also umpteen pinners of designer garments and objects, indicating the successful dissemination of design culture among the masses. However, the stereotypical Pinterester is not likely to be able to afford most of what she pins in a million years.

domestic but quaint, mrs. french of Portland, Oregon is very popular

Pinterest is quickly changing early twenty-first century consumer culture and social media. Pinterest is taking design consciousness from the in crowd and feeding it to the masses. One possible impact is investment by FMCG producers in package design, slowly moving towards quaint packaging. Retro and quaint packaging, associated with organic and artisanal food, incites consumer trust about the quality of the product. With the popular pinterest in package design, we may see more blue chip FMCG clad in cute packages, even if only for specific marketing campaigns. Coca Cola’s limited edition ‘125 years box set’ from last year can be seen as a precursor for blue chip catering to mass vintage hysteria.

Brands like Bonne Maman can boast of cool packaging, as well as claiming ‘artisanal’ quality. Despite the fact that, it is ‘the largest exporter of jam in the world. It’s image, reputation and worldwide distribution make Bonne Maman one of the most famous brands that represent France abroad.’

Pinterest also changed online identity construction. In a pinteresting twist of lack and desire, all you have to do now is to showcase your taste! You can construct your identity, not on the basis of what you own, but on the basis of what you want to own. Now consumers are window-shopping and window-displaying products they may or may not be able to afford. It’s been a quick ride from the surge of ‘look what I’m wearing today’ blogs to pinning ‘what I’d be wearing, if only I could afford it’ on Pinterest. What used to be exclusive content in Monocle is being repinned every second. This new development in lifestyle has important implications for the future of social media. Social media boomed with sharing real-life experiences: WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Four Square, and Flickr owe their success to the willingness of private individuals in sharing their activities, work, and content. With Pinterest, you don’t have to go to Thailand to display photos of Phuket. Neither do you not have to cite the photographer or the source. While it is possible to track the original sources of most content, one can pin images one hoarded on one’s harddisk onto her or his boards and infringe copyright.

Virtual pilgrimages

Pinterest is converting social media users into curators of consumerism, who consciously construct their online identity by showcasing their taste in content selection and display. What we own used to be central to who we are, we desired what we lacked. On Pinterest we show all that we lack and desire without the necessity of doing anything about it. The world of 21st century online curation is changing the meaning of desire. Come on, pin that, you will be the most pinteresting virtual it-girl of the year!

My un-pinteresting asaroton curation with too much text!!!

Real Urban Legends: the Safety of Amsterdam

When I first got here, I stayed in Amsterdam for a week as I waited for the realtor to prepare my contract. That week, a friend explained to me how safe the city was: on the Queen’s Day in 2011, he had a friend visiting from London who forgot her purse on the steps of a house during a street party. She had 300 euros in the purse, and his number. The next day, a phone call assured them the purse was safe. Those who come from crowded big cities are amazed by the decency and honesty of Dutch people.

How crowded it gets on Queen’s Day by Peter Dejong/Associated Press

In the middle of ‘hot time summer in the city’ last week, probably because of the atypically hot weather (27 degrees) I got out of the tram number 2 without my laptop on my way to a lunch appointment. I arrived in the café, only to realize that my laptop was missing. I was already in a panic by the time my friend arrived. So instead of lunch, I got into the tram 2 and continued till the last stop.

I thought my laptop was gone for good. Every time I forgot my smart or stupid phones, I found them. But I feared expecting the recovery of a laptop was too much-even for me, though like a cat always falling on four feet. When I arrived at the end stop, they told me they found my laptop! But thinking I was going to the central station to pick it up, it was still on the tram 2. The officers of the last stop contacted the tram and asked it to bring it back to the end stop. Meanwhile, I had another appointment at three, one I wanted to show up for. The GVB Service & Veiligheid officials offered me a ride so we could go meet the tram and I could make it to my appointment.

Waiting for the tram with the GVB Service & Veiligheid official

I knew my laptop was safe. I totally enjoyed the adventure of riding over the tram tracks in the GVB car. The GVB guys were so cool, they knew the city inside out, taking short cuts, and entirely lacking the love for bureaucratic procedures that is so common among Dutch officials. It was as cool as one afternoon in 2008 when a young policeman let me use the secret tunnel under the Bosphorous Bridge so that I could load my toll card before I crossed from Asia to Europe. Back then, the KGS card office used to close at seven and I was going to return later than that.

It seems in Amsterdam the only thing to fear for is your bike!