The long walk to understanding slavery


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The Independent Online

Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa is all for educating young black people about their history. In fact, for his work in helping those from “diverse” backgrounds get jobs in the media, Ajasa-Oluwa was appointed a Social Enterprise Ambassador by the Cabinet Office and invited to Downing Street on numerous occasions.

Last week, while doing a little history research of his own, he came across an app in the iTunes store that took him by surprise. The Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom (£1.49) is a “first-person perspective” video game created by National Geographic magazine that offers as its premise: “You are a slave. You belong to a farmer who owns a tobacco plantation on the eastern shore of Maryland. Six long days a week you tend his field. But not for much longer … What will you do? Make your choices well as you embark on your journey to freedom.”

Ajasa-Oluwa says: “Although intended to be educational, I consider it bad taste to deem the slave trade something that can be turned into a game. Clearly, National Geographic do not appreciate the impact slavery has had and how sensitive a matter it is to millions today. Equally clearly, there can’t have been any black people in the room when National Geographic decided to proceed with this ‘educational game’.”

Prime time

Apple has previous when it comes to corporate playfulness. In the early 1990s, after a long-running court battle with Apple Corp – the company founded by the Beatles – Apple was allowed to continue using the name for computers but prohibited from using the trademark for any “creative works whose principal content is music”. So when Jim Reekes, the creator of Apple’s sound alerts, was asked what the one with a xylophone note should be called, he quipped “Let it Beep” before alighting on “Sosumi”.

Last week, the company was at it again for the launch of the Apple Watch. There is an understanding in the horological universe that analogue watches always look their best when photographed showing 10 minutes past 10, as this is the time deemed to look symmetrical without blocking any of the watch’s features. (Check next time you see an expensive watch photographed if you don’t believe me.) So what time did Apple set its watches to in all the pictures you will, no doubt, have seen last week? Nine minutes past 10, to show that Apple is always one step ahead, presumably. 

Hold your noses!

Modern life might already feel like an assault on the senses, but we ain’t seen (or rather smelt) nothing yet. As part of the research for his book Led by the Nose: The Future of Smell in a Digital World, former Independent on Sunday scribe Robert Chalmers tested the Scentee (which allows you to send friends a single smell) and the oPhone DUO (a device that can emit up to 300,000 odours).

And if those devices sound appealing, be sure to make your way over to east London next month for the UK’s second Sencity event (Oval Space, 24 and 25 October). For there, along with the usual banging techno, live acts and “light artists”, revellers will be treated to the “ultimate immersive clubbing experience” courtesy of an “aroma jockey” called Gwen.

Apparently, this “sense-composer [will] analyse the playlist and match the emotions within the music with smells that are pumped into the room”. And, by the way, the Sencity concept was born out of an attempt to create a clubbing experience for deaf people. So don’t go getting too sniffy about it.

Faux pas are us

National Geographic was not the only corporate entity to score something of an own goal last week. Over in the States, the social-media team at DiGiorno Pizza had to apologise after jumping on a Twitter bandwagon before checking to see what the hashtag was referring to. 

#WhyIStayed was a forum for women in abusive relationships – a subject which was brought to the fore after CCTV footage emerged of a former NFL player, Ray Rice, attacking his wife. So DiGiorno’s “#WhyIStayed You had pizza” tweet was swiftly followed by one reading “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.”

In Europe, meanwhile, a fashion company called Ground Zero caused much consternation by sending out the invites to its spring/summer show in Paris on 11 September. Repeated calls – some hours apart – to the label’s press office elicited the response that the person who could tell me if this was intentional was “out at lunch”. 

No rhyme or reason

Another in a regular series of limericks based on recent events:

Though the vote is still anyone’s guess,

And no one’s yet toasting success,

Could it be it’s not whether

We’re Better Together

But that “No” lacks the power of “Yes”?