Reality Check: What if we told you that your memories were wrong?

The strange phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect has a thing or two to say about memory, truth and what ‘real’ really means. Dan Michael Jones, The Royals’ resident explorer of the surreal, reports from somewhere down the rabbit hole.

Man reflected in puddle

Nelson Mandela died in 2013 at age 95. It was the end of an iconic life for the freedom fighter and Nobel Peace Prize-winner who lived primarily in the public eye – even when he was locked behind bars. Obituaries mourned the loss of a statesman who made lasting change for the betterment of mankind.

But when he died, a whole bunch of people around the world were really confused. Because they’d already seen Mandela pass away. They’d already seen his televised funeral. They’d already read obituaries after he died during the 90s – never able to take his rightful place as the head of a free South Africa.

English Alive, 1990: writings from High Schools in Southern Africa; K. Heugh, A. Kennet; Western Cape Branch of the South African Council for English Education, 1991.
English Alive, 1990: writings from High Schools in Southern Africa; K. Heugh, A. Kennet; Western Cape Branch of the South African Council for English Education, 1991.

And they were all convinced that they hadn’t just remembered it wrong. They were sure things had happened that way in their reality, and their reality had changed. One of them was US researcher Fiona Broome, who coined the title “The Mandela Effect” for the strange phenomenon she and others were experiencing.

But it’s not just about Nelson Mandela. The phenomenon has permeated politics and popular culture, and gone beyond the “are you kidding me?” factor. It says a lot about the nature of memory and its ability to be blurred, influenced and reshaped.

I Feel A Change Comin’ On

Google turns up hundreds of other examples of Mandela Effects, and a huge number of people who are convinced of their legitimacy.

In 2015, a Vice article titled The Berenst(E)ain Bears Conspiracy Theory That Has Convinced the Internet There Are Parallel Universes got people outside of the web’s dustiest corners thinking about the phenomenon.

You might remember reading the Berenstein Bears books or watching the cartoon when you were a kid. You might have read the books or watched the series with your own kids. Are you 100% convinced Berenstein is spelled s-t-e-i-n like Einstein? Turns out in this universe we’ve been spelling it Brenstain (with an “a”) all along.

Then in 2016, New Statesman published an article about people convinced that there were two films in the 90s about kids befriending genies. Both starred tall dudes with one-word names that start with an “s”. Both have a “z” in the title. Kazaam, staring the NBA star known as Shaq was real. Shazam, starring the comedian known as Sinbad wasn’t.

But New Statesman spoke with Mandela Effect-ed fans of Shazam, including Don, who worked at his uncle’s video store as a teenager in the 90s:

“I had to handle the two copies we owned dozens of times over the years. And I had to watch it multiple times to look for reported damages to the tape, rewind it and check it in, rent it out, and put the boxes out on display for rental. It feels like a part of my childhood has now been stolen from me. How does a movie simply vanish from our history?”

Fiona Broome suggests that these aren’t simple errors in memory. Rather, they’re reconstructed incidents (or sequences of events) from the past.

“They exceed the normal range of forgetfulness,” she says.

And she credits the multiverse for these shifts. As in our universe is just one in an infinite series of universes in which every possible combination of events and outcomes can and will happen. Sometimes they just meet at the edges and bleed into each other a little.

Further Down The Rabbit Hole

Mandela Effect theorists and fanatics (and there are plenty) have taken Broome’s initial hypothesis a whole lot further. They place the blame squarely on CERN – the European Centre for Nuclear Research – and the centre’s famed Large Hadron Collider.

The planet’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator and the largest machine in the world, the Collider is housed in a 27km circular tunnel beneath CERN’s headquarters on the Franco-Swiss border just outside Geneva. And it’s there to try and replicate the conditions of the Big Bang, the event that led to the creation of the universe.

Many who believe in the Mandela Effect say that every time the Large Hadron Collider is used – ie. every time the conditions of the birth of the universe are recreated – it shifts our reality a little.

That shift is not enough so that the fundamental nature of life itself is changed, but enough so that one man’s death occurs differently, or one of the two B-grade 90s flicks about tweens palling about with genies phases out of existence forever.

So that’s the exciting explanation. And it’s a conspiracy theory that supporters attempt to justify with real science about particle physics, gravitational waves, string theory and cosmic inflation. But an accurate explanation might be a less sci-fi and more Freudian than anything Broome et al suggest.

Because truth is, us humans are fallible creatures with imperfect sensory functions that only get worse at their jobs as we age. Our cognitive systems are easily led astray. And our memory centres aren’t high-performance hard drives, they’re biochemical processes that reconstruct past experience into vague representations of “what really happened”.

Losing The Memory Wars

Elizabeth Loftus is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Washington. And she’s an expert in reconstructive memory who has provided expert testimony about the falliabily of recall in a number of high profile court cases – including the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the trial of the LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King and the litigation of Michael Jackson for child sex charges.

In a study Loftus undertook during the 1970s, she asked participants to recall details of a simulated car crash they were shown by asking half “How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” and half “How fast were the cars going when they smashed each other?”. And that small change in wording made a big difference in the results.

When the researcher asked the question using the world “smashed,” participants recalled that the cars were travelling at higher speeds compared to when Loftus asked them with the word “hit.” The word “smashed” caused eyewitnesses to recall broken glass at the scene even though none existed. Their memories changed due to the changing of one word in a question.

This work can help explain many examples of the Mandela Effect as simply contaminated or distorted memories. Like the way – spoiler alert – Darth Vader’s line in The Empire Strikes Back has been misquoted over and over as “Luke, I am your father,“ even by the character’s voice actor James Earl Jones (for those playing at home, the actual line is “No, I am your father.”)

But this wasn’t enough for Loftus, who was convinced it is possible to implant entirely false memories in people. She developed the ‘Lost in the Mall’ technique during the 1990s. Participants of a study were each given four short stories describing events from their childhood, supplied by their family members, and later asked to try and recall them.

What participants weren’t told was that one of the stories – describing a time when the subject was lost in a shopping centre – was false. The fake narrative incorporated plausible details provided by the relative. In this initial study, 25% of the participants reported to be able to remember this event even though it never actually happened, and many were able to provide embellishing details that were not supplied to them.

Fake is the New Real

“This is a dangerous time. Moving forward, we need to be more vigilant with what we trust from the internet,” says Barack Obama in a powerful 2018 PSA about the mind-bending potential and inherent risks of AI-driven deepfake videos.

Barack Obama
Still from You Won’t Believe What Obama Says In This Video!, BuzzFeed Video

Only it’s not Obama talking. Sure, it’s his face, but the mouth and the voice are a spot-on impersonation by Get Out director Jordan Peele. In a world that’s divided by “fake news” and “inconvenient truth”, we need to be more vigilant about who and what we choose to trust.

The Mandela Effect shows that not only are our brains and memories fallible, they’re highly susceptible to influence. And as fakes get more and more lifelike thanks to machine learning and AI, the implantation of false memories will only get easier and easier.

Recently, a deepfake video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – a stringent critic of Donald Trump – made its way across the web. The video was an obvious fraud, slowed down and then pitch-corrected to make it look and sound like Pelosi was drunk and incoherent at several news conferences and public events.

But despite being faked, Twitter and Facebook declined to remove it. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani shared the clip, and then the President himself sent out a “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE” missive which embedded the video and was pinned to the top of his Twitter feed.

Scary stuff. And perhaps scary enough for us for all to rekindle our long-term relationships with the truth once and for all. Otherwise, I’m moving to Geneva. So that next time they fire up the Large Hadron Collider, I get Mandela Effect-ed over into another timeline.

– Dan Michael Jones

The Royals, AdNews People and Culture Award Finalist

This excerpt originally appeared in iknowho and has been shortened for length.

Kings Valley UnConference

Early 2018 saw in the AdNews People and Culture Award, founded by iknowho. We wanted to sit down with returning finalists The Royals and hear more about their consecutive nomination.

As Dan Beaumont, Managing Partner, says: ‘Culture is everything at The Royals, it’s genuinely at the centre of who we are.’ We caught up with Dan and Kristy Camarillo, Talent Manager at The Royals to discuss their motivations, challenges and initiative successes.

What motivated you to enter this year’s People and Culture Award?
Dan – Our culture is our number one priority in the business. We know that if we get that right, everything else flows from there. If you haven’t got that right, I would argue that it’s more difficult to do great work for clients, win business and build a great agency.
It’s important for us to establish a reputation of valuing our culture and our people. We need to signal to the market very clearly that The Royals is a great place to work and we value people, irrespective of ethnicity, gender or age. That’s why we enter culture awards.
Kristy – Ultimately, awards not only attract clients but also talent. I think being recognised for something we’re heavily invested in, which has been our People and Culture, has allowed us to attract the right talent and to retain those people.

Being finalists 2 years in a row has shown consistency from your People and Culture initiatives. How do you stay on top of your game?
Dan – It’s consistent because we haven’t changed our priorities. The way we manage the agency is like an operating system; a little bit like the operating system on your smartphone. We upgrade our OS constantly; we fix bugs, add functionality and make the system operate better – that’s how we approach The Royals. So when it comes to our culture, the way we have managed it evolves and we strive to ‘get better at getting better’.
Kristy – Our engagement surveys measure the strength of our culture & drive our our employee initiatives for the year ahead. These come from the bottom up, not the top down. We want to ensure that the voice of all of our Royals is represented, listened to and considered.

Which People & Culture initiative do you think has created the biggest impact to the business?
Dan – Lots of little things we do have a big impact on our business. We have an unwritten rule particularly with the five partners: we give before we take.

A Christmas draw
Every Christmas we throw a name in the hat for every year each person has worked at The Royals. We draw a name and that person gets and all-expenses paid trip to SXSW Festival in Austin; this is a real celebration of the staff.

The UNconference
The unconference is an away weekend, which is 3 days and 2 nights across both offices, Sydney and Melbourne. We have been to Hobart, Byron Bay and last year we all climbed to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, where we had our first values awards presentation. We have 3 values – Audacity, Camaraderie and Revelry. Nick, our Creative Partner, has created patches for each of these values, and we award them to people who demonstrate those values. The unconference is a chance for all of us to get away together and do something we have never done before. This year we went glamping in King Valley and enjoyed everything the vineyards there have to offer, and then some.

Mount Kosciuszko

Monday Morning Assembly
Every Monday morning we have an all-staff meeting with both offices connected across video conference, where we talk about the week ahead. It’s about transparency, where staff can ask questions about what is going on in the business, then we have a presentation on something that is inspiring and interesting – staff members are responsible for this. It’s a big part of kicking off a successful five-day sprint in the agency.

Most Interested Day
It’s easy to get caught up in our busy day-to-day work so each month we give one Royal the day off, to get out of the office and take part in an ‘interested’ activity – it might be an advanced driving course, trapeze lessons, how to manage a beehive. The aim is to change up people’s daily working days and stretch them a bit – get them out of their comfort zone.

So it’s not just one initiative but all the little things, and everything contributes to our daily working lives and the overall culture of the business.

The Royals are known for looking for talent from a range of backgrounds, what impact has this diversity had on the business?
Kristy – We do not have a separate diversity policy, it’s just ingrained in everything we do. A lack of diversity in our business is a lack of relevance. We have people from a range of backgrounds – a marine biologist, lawyers, accountants, military psychologists, individuals from 15 countries that speak 12 languages and span three generations. Bringing such diverse perspectives and experiences to our work allows us to create better, more effective work for our clients and it drives our business forward.

As The Royals have offices in Melbourne and Sydney, what challenges do you face for the culture spanning two locations? How do you overcome these challenges?
Dan – The rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne is very much alive, not just at The Royals. We move people around a lot as they work in projects in each office. This facilitates our single agency mindset; we called it ‘1 egg with 2 yolks’. We don’t enter NSW or Victorian Agency of the Year for that reason. Some publishers try and pull us apart, but we have one P&L and that’s how we manage the business across the board. Operating as one agency/ one culture means we don’t need to duplicate services in both cities.
Kristy – We share resources, we cast projects appropriately (based on skills and experience). We try to come together as much as possible – face to face, Hangouts, phone to maintain collaboration – which is a cornerstone of The Royals.

Thank you to The Royals for another great award entry. Check out what was discussed in last year’s interview here.

The new Royals VR Induction Experience

You’ve probably experienced multiple workplace inductions before; the introduction to the kitchen, location of the toilet, finance processes and latest office gossip. But what if you could be inducted in a fun, interactive virtual reality experience instead?

We recently set out to create just that – a virtual reality experience we could immerse new employees in. The objective was to steer clear of the conventional workplace induction training video, and create a sense of The Royals culture and values in a dynamic, engaging environment.

Using virtual reality provided an opportunity to create a highly immersive, interactive and other-worldly experience not possible on other mediums. We chose the HTC Vive as our virtual reality device, favouring its room-scale tracking and reliable controller interactions. Starting with a limited knowledge of Unity3D, I eventually implemented fun, unexpected interactions with 3D assets, created a large customisable terrain with a height map, and programmed the ability to teleport through the terrain. We also explored combining mediums within the experience; adding a two-dimensional video to be watched within the experience, and recording a radio piece to play in the background.

Creating the experience wasn’t without its challenges. Some aspects of Unity present a bit of an uphill battle, and designing for a virtual experience was complex and intertwined in many disciplines. Similarly, testing the experience constantly resulted in more testing, as it seems no two virtual reality tests are ever the same.

The final product is a polished, engaging virtual reality experience providing new employees a fresh, interesting start to life at The Royals. If there’s anything here for you, you might get to see it!

Sarah Jackson

Here’s are some more shots of the experience:

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Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 8.30.26 PM

My SXSW: An interview with Chrissie by Chrissie.

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about my recent trip to SXSW. Many involve just a fleeting “How was it?”, while others invest a little more with  “What’s the coolest tech you saw?”, while others get quite pointed “Did you find BBQ?”.

It’s tricky to give a decent response to these types of questions over the coffee machine. So, here is me breaking it down to be about the questions I wish I got asked about my trip to SXSW 2018 (self-tailored to be about my favourite sessions, gigs, comedy acts or masterclasses).

What was the idea that you wish you’d thought of?
Sickboy. It’s a podcast by three Canadian mates, one of whom looks like the lead singer of Maroon 5. That guy has cystic fibrosis. That guy is also very funny. So, he thought it would be a great idea to breakdown the complexities of serious illness and all the complex foreign terms that are thrusted at you when you’re diagnosed using humour and by removing all pretentiousness. On this day of recording they were interviewing the strongman Andrew Palmer who was suddenly diagnosed with very acute Leukemia. This recording was aptly names Leukemia Sucks: http://sickboypodcast.com/blog/2018/3/12/sickboy-does-sxsw

Sickboy is just a really good idea stemmed from the insight to break taboos, raise hope and build a sense of community via the power of positive thinking.

What was the question(s) you wish you’d asked?
Sometimes a conversation, sometimes a talk, sometimes with presentations, sometimes without. Every time though, there was question time at the end. It’s incredible for these speakers to answer questions on the fly. Some hard hitting, some people just wanting to share their appreciation.

I snuck into the Spike Lee masterclass about appropriating film for a Netflix series. It was so interesting to hear from a community that had been so touched and influenced by his 1988 film ‘She’s Gotta Have It’. The most interesting Q&A was how he’s tweaking his original script to reflect today’s current dating/love/sex and young adult culture to ensure it is relevant, if not as provocative as his original was.

Esther Perel, the relationship therapist and successful podcaster of ‘Where shall we start’ was asked “how do I make sure I don’t lose my identity in a relationship?” A question that was instantly rewarded with an applause before Esther could even respond. SHe then referred back to what she had said all along, that “the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” These days we seem to put so much pressure on our partner to provide the emotional and physical resources that we actually need a community to provide. That community should include friends, colleagues, sports, arts, music ets so that we don’t need to rely solely on one.

Then there was a bright spark after a NASA panel (of 3 boss female scientists) who asked “Is there a risk that when you send anything to space that you are in fact contaminating the area in which you land?”. *Mind blown* why had I never thought of that? Of course the answer is that there is a very very slight risk that they may have free loading microorganisms that hitch-hike their way but to date they have not. It’s definitely something that they’re cautious of and very wary to avoid as best they possibly can before launching.

As you can imagine, no-one leaves when the questions begin as there’s potentially still so much to learn (or snigger at).

What was the wankiest term you heard over there?
LOCALVIST. It was on day one, in the first session I heard. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about what this whole thing was about. This term is not only painful to say, read and use… but most painful is that we should all become familiar with it.

The localvist is a community warrior. They believe in local activism, possess a distrust in large institutions, buy local goods and services because they want to make an impact in their world. They don’t believe in storytelling, want brands to stand-up for something and love (the idea of) cryptocurrencies because they can track the beginning to end of every transaction.

For me the advertiser, this audience is such a great challenge and makes us ask so many new questions like how can we create a genuine brand that stands-up for issues that affect them? How can we serve their community? How can we work with BitPay?

What was the most surprising talk?
To my surprise it wasn’t a NASA talk, or Spike Lee masterclass or hearing from the head of activations at Louis Vuitton or the Irish PM. For me, my mission for the trip was to not go to anything that I would find familiar. So I went along to hear Janet Echelman, an artist who I had never heard of. Janet specialises in turning public spaces into desirable places because “a public space is only a space without an engaging experience.” What is so interesting about her techniques are the materials she utilises which are the same fibres of NASA spacesuits which are weaved and knotted like Balinese fishing nets and are formed off data from within the local area for example on the movements of the wind or clouds or timely sunsets or foot traffic.

Plus, have you ever heard of a piece of art being able to withstand a tornado? She has one in Phoenix that can do just that and it’s called “Her Secret is Patience”. It was tested in a gravity and wind simulator! Of course it’s not just Janet, she works closely with a team of engineers, aeronautical engineers, sculptures, designers, steel engineers and more to create her visions. It was so inspiring to see data come to life in such a beautiful as well as tried & tested way.

What’s some new music I should listen to?
Definitely ShamirTry and get the live version because the intro’s to each song makes it so much better because of the angst. The few that I remember went a little something like “This song is about the friend you never want to introduce to your mother because you know your Mum will hate them”, “This one is called dead inside, it’s an autobiography” and “This one is called straight guys because if you’re straight and a man we don’t trust you”.

All my favourite gigs were at Mohawks. If you’re ever in Austin be sure to catch a gig there.

After a whole day in sessions, a few hours at Mohawk’s, and a burger stop-off we found ourselves heading to an amazing theatre just outside of downtown Austin. Here we queued, as you do, for Max Richter. A modern composer. I was about 4 people from the front when one of the volunteers stopped the line to say “sorry folks you’ve missed out the beds”. At the time, I thought I was okay with that. That was until I realised I had walked into an 8-hour overnight performance called “Sleep”. This must be how the filthy rich sleep, with Max Richter playing them about 6 chords on repeat for 8 hours straight. Whilst the performance wasn’t for me, I’m impressed with the dedication to his art.

What was the security like?
The most dialled-up security I saw was for the politicians. The Irish PM and Senator Bernie Sanders. Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach, is one of the most progressive leaders in the European Union, if not the world. He’s a 39 year-old, half-Indian half-Irish Catholic man who is openly gay and is a medical doctor, with experience in that field. He thinks that career politicians are in trouble because of ongoing distrust from communities. Bernie Sanders touched on that too. Bernie’s number one mission ahead of the 2018 election is to get more people registered to vote because he believes that Americans are disgusted with the current political climate. Thankfully each time, the high level security wasn’t needed.

Can you riff some tidbits for me?

  • 17% of the Irish population were not born in Ireland.
  • Twitter isn’t dead.
  • Matte black,vegetarian meat, multitasking mirrors, animal alternatives (pineapple leather) will all be trending within the next 6-12 months.
  • The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.
  • Ireland will stop using coal by 2025.

Would you go to SXSW again, and again?
Absolutely. This is the most inspiring and exciting festival I have been to. It brings people from all over the world who are so excited to be part of something with such scale and that is reflective of those that speak, present, act, perform and cook for all the attendees. The whole event is what you make of it and I think me and my crew (Zoe, Lee, Kenny, Antuong and the ring-ins along the way) covered some ground that helped fulfil my mind, soothe my itchy feet and renew my level of excitement to be #mostinterested.

By Chrissie Malloch and Chrissie Malloch.

 

Say No to No

I love our industry

We are a bunch of thinkers, makers, hackers, and misfits with the occasional genius sitting quietly in the corner. If you meet someone from our industry there is more often than not an instantaneous connection. Somehow we are all trying to achieve the same thing. We all fight the same battles and often have very similar beliefs. 

And that is why the Royals have been having such great success with our new Say No to No campaign.

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Vivid Ideas 2017: My Impressions

I was recently lucky enough to escape the Melbourne Winter and head to Sydney for Vivid Ideas 2017. On top of some incredible light shows and witnessing one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen from French music duo, Air, I had the opportunity to attend a number of thought-provoking events as part of Vivid Ideas.

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SXSW: Creativity, AI and the robots that are coming

There was a stack of robots at SXSW this year.  Over just four days, I managed to watch robots play drums, print names on table tennis balls (Royals logo looked great btw), hear a debate between two robots on the virtues of Lady Gaga vs. Taylor Swift and even go to an ‘artificial (comedy) improv’ session featuring a cast of robots dressed up in drag!  All these androids ‘taking over the world’ are bound to make some agency folk more than a little paranoid about the future of work.  But others are embracing the fear and running headlong into a cybernetic future where computers understand more of our intuitive human knowledge and – if we’re interested enough – may actually help improve one of the key things that makes us human in the first place:  that is, our ability to emotionally connect with others.

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