Magazine article Marketing

Is the Internet Making Everything Shit?

Magazine article Marketing

Is the Internet Making Everything Shit?

Article excerpt

The effects of the digital revolution have not always been positive, but a brand, an agency and a great idea can still make an economic impact, says DigitasLBi's Chris Clarke.

During my 15 years in the industry, I've made my share of passionate arguments for the wonders of digital. When I started out, at 23, I was zealous in my belief that industries needed disrupting. I looked on the burning embers of once-arrogant giants such as Kodak and waved a warning finger at all who would deny the digital future.

There is no doubt that digital has brought us much convenience, beyond a ready supply of porn and videos of cats falling into custard. Let's take it as a given that digital has happened and has done some wonderful things, and that many of us have benefited enormously.

But even before it dawned on me that something bad might be happening, I felt a sense of creeping unease that too few in the marketing community had anything truly perceptive to say about this revolution that we have been living through.

If I ever have to witness another slick presenter telling a somnolently nodding room that the internet is the biggest thing to hit publishing since the Gutenberg Press, I will invade the stage and do a Jarvis Cocker.

It is time, people of marketing, that we stopped and reflected on what is going on around us. Our lives are intrinsically digital, and any sensible comms plan should reflect that. But there is a point at which the digital community has a responsibility to stop the sales job, give a bit of thought to how digital is affecting the world at large, and acknowledge that technological progress is having all sorts of unintended consequences.

We should begin by putting a few silly untruths to bed. Let's start with the internet's gift of democratisation - and not just because it's a deeply ugly word. We cannot call the internet a democracy just because it enables us to rate a product on Amazon, or forward an ironic tweet We might be talking or complaining or protesting, even, but in a digital environment that is governed and enabled by what Jaron Lanier calls the 'siren servers' of a handful of internet giants, let's not imagine that we are voting.

Even the role social media may have played in the Arab Spring can hardly be credited with bringing democracy when we see the ongoing bloodshed apparent from Cairo to Damascus.

The myth of digital democratisation feeds into another flabby notion: that the consumer is in control. It is a slogan that chimes with our times - it makes a nice sound - but we should be very careful not to believe it.

Marketing directors might feel they have lost control, but that does not mean that the consumer has it instead. We can all tweet @BTcare and we might get a response, but it is a shallow illusion of control. Real control lies with those who own the biggest computers; we gave it to them in return for free search and a place to build a parallel self.

Good things do come of those and other free digital goods - this is no rant against Google or Facebook. Technology has served some of us very well, but the idea that access and privilege is any more open than it is in the wider world is naive.

POWER IN THE HANDS OF THE FEW

While we are being dazzled by the idea that we can get things for free, digital power and control have been ceded to a relatively small number of astonishingly influential organisations driven by an unregulated combination of self-interest, shareholder value and techno-utopianism.

Are free apps and services adequate compensation for such a massive migration of power? It depends who you ask, but I would like to see the digital industry talking about the cult of free, and whether free things, for all their consumer appeal, aren't actually destroying quality and jobs.

The driverless car sounds like progress, unless you are a first-generation immigrant losing yet another possible path to middle-class security. …

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