“[…] your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” -Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park
It seems to me that all these websites we use to share stuff with our friends (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus) and define our preferences to the world (the aforementioned, about.me, last.fm, spotify, netflix, and on and on) are mainly using our information to make themselves more valuable to advertisers.
“Facebook’s role is to turn us all into self-selected micro-targeting opportunities under the guise of making personal preference visible.” -me (last time I’ll quote myself, I promise)
We are the commodity. Our egos are stroked as much as it takes to put a ton of work into building profiles of what we like, who we like, what our preferences are. The feedback loop is created to reward us with Klout, followers, whatever it takes for us to continue. We spend hours and hours tweaking our ‘public’ appearance to match what how we perceive ourselves, but what we’re doing is more of an ego stroke and a shuffling of data so that corporations can better target their mediocre advertising copy at us. The whole system is set up as a method to delude ourselves that we are merely defining ourselves to the public, when in fact we are proactively segregating ourselves into target markets in a profound act of dehumanization.
We now believe that curation of other peoples creative acts is in itself as valuable as being creative ourselves. We tout our Tumblrs, our Twitter feeds, our Google+ accounts as ‘follow-worthy’, and consider a link to other peoples lists of the “10 best things you’ll see on the internet today” to be a creative act.
I continue to worry about how much we crow and focus on all the amazing tools we have for sharing stuff, and not about the lack of basic writing, storytelling, story capture, emotional investment, financial investment, or even interest in upping the quality, originality and skill at which we compose and build things to share.
If I have thirty toilets with webcams connected to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Posterous, Amplify, YouTube, Plurk, Color, Flickr, Instagram, Buzz, Wave, WordPress, Blogspot, Typepad, Vimeo, Itunes, blip.tv and turntable.fm, the most interesting experience you’re going to have is still watching someone take a crap.
To be clear, I’m not attributing any particular malevolence of intent to people in the marketing world. Many if not most are doing their jobs to the best of their ability. The identification, the encouraging others to self-segregate, this is their part of the machine. They don’t spend the time thinking about whether they ‘should’, because their job is to figure out how they ‘could’
I’m reminded of a scene from an underrated sci-fi horror movie called Cube, where a number of people are trapped in what they believe to be a never-ending series of rooms connected to each other, some of which are booby-trapped with machines that kill them in grisly fashion. If you’ll permit me…
WORTH: Not this part, the exterior. I don’t know anything about the numbers or anything else in here. I was contracted to draw plans for a hollow shell. A cube.
QUENTIN:Who hired you?
WORTH: I didn’t ask. I never even left my office. I talked on the phone to some other guys like me. Specialists working on small details. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody cared. […] It’s maybe hard for you to understand, but there’s no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It’s a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a masterplan. Can you grasp that? Big brother is not watching you.
QUENTIN: What kind of fucking explanation is that?
WORTH: It’s the best you´re gonna get. I looked and the only explanation I can come to is that there is nobody up there.
QUENTIN: Somebody had to say yes to this thing.
WORTH: What thing? Only we know what it is. […] I mean somebody might have known sometime, before they got fired or voted out or sold it. But if this place ever had a purpose, then it got miscommunicated or lost in the shuffle. This is an accident, a forgotten propetual, public, works project. Do you think anybody wants to ask questions? All they want is a clear conscience and a fat paycheck. I mean, I lead on my desk for months. This was a great job!
In this era where it seems that we’re giving up all of our power to corporations, who are made up of individual limbs without a head or a heart, entrusting them to create jobs when it’s actually against their short-term success metric ($) to hire people (where do you think “we need to do more with less” comes from?), must we go so willingly into the world of raising our hands as a consumer, and lower the bar of creation so that a “RT” counts as art?
I guess what I’m saying is several things. Let’s not lose sight of ourselves as individuals, and be careful about how much time we spend making it easier for us to be advertised at, and turned into ‘consumers’ rather than people with a unique worldview.
Let’s be sure to create, not just consume or regurgitate. Let’s draw, let’s write, let’s podcast, lets sing, let’s make friends. Let’s let go of the attachment to a “success” metric, and express what’s inside. Let’s be curious. Let’s hold ourselves to a human standard, not an AdSense-targetable influencer ranking.
This is going to be a fight. There is a lot of momentum in the other direction. Many will disagree, and make points about all the friends they’ve made because of these services (I agree they are useful as a means to an end, but that does not necessarily balance out the dehumanization of the means), and that’s all well and good. Many people will have ulterior motives, though not necessarily nefarious ones. We must keep our humanity in focus and not sell ourselves out for a Spotify invite.
Am I crazy here?
Here’s my challenge to you. If you take a good hard look at your online activity and notice that maybe your day-to-day fits into this pattern of raising your hand as a target for advertising to corporate America, when what you’ve been told is “make this a favorite and you’ll get free DVDs and other perks,” stop what you’re doing and figure out a way to put something new into the world that isn’t a tweet, a “like” or a tumblr repost. Then post it here for us all to see.
I look forward to it.
Thanks for reading.
- Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops (wired.com)
- How Online Companies Get You to Share More and Spend More (wired.com)
- All of gapingvoid.com
Jeremy — Great post and this quote from your writing sums it all up for me:
“I continue to worry about how much we crow and focus on all the amazing tools we have for sharing stuff, and not about the lack of basic writing, storytelling, story capture, emotional investment, financial investment, or even interest in upping the quality, originality and skill at which we compose and build things to share.”
For some reason this made me think of how we met. Through the internet, but probably the lowest-tech part of the internet: Craigslist. Digital classifieds. I emailed you because of a relatively long form thing you wrote about yourself.
I think you can tell so much about a person through their writing, so back in the heyday of CL personals, I actually found it pretty fun to sift through and find people who seemed cool because of what they wrote and how they expressed themselves. As I’ve said, my ROI (heh) on CL was pretty high because I had a good eye for people who seemed cool.
Sites like Ok Stupid or Match or whatever don’t appeal to me because reading a list of bands you like or the kind of food you eat is just empty stuff. Everyone’s profile looks and feels the same, much like Facebook.
There was a time when I thought that FB was kind of the equivalent of someone’s dorm room door. You put up funny pictures, quotes, posters, whatever you want to put out there to the world. I don’t think that’s a good analogy anymore. At least physically taping something to a door is more involved than being prompted to click a button and “like” something. If selecting which products to like is a new form of self-expression, than maybe we are fucked.
I know that CL personals are totally impractical way of finding dates for most people. There’s no algorithm, your favorite movies don’t automatically turn into links when you hit return, you can’t “wink” or “flirt” without actually emailing someone something appealing enough to elicit a response.
I probably sound like an old man telling kids to get off my lawn. I’m not sure we’re at doomsday quite yet, but it does seem like things are trending away from, say, LiveJournal and Blogger to Tumblr to mindless RTing on Twitter.
First, I love the post, and I’m happy to have come across it. And it is, of course, dead on accurate.
The irony which isn’t lost on me is that as I type this I do so above a footer which tells me the type of music you like, the books that you read, what you’re tweeting, the links you’ve found interesting saved to Del.icio.us, the pictures you’ve taken, and your work history. As a marketer, I thank you :)
But seriously, it’s a topic we should all focus on. As I like to put it, “privacy is the new currency, and the sooner you figure that out the sooner you figure out that all of these sites and services aren’t ‘free'”
That is why I said “we”. I’m guilty of a lot of this myself, and I’m taking a hard look at my creation/consumption balance (for example, this is my first blog post in over a month)
Thanks for the response!