Monday, 18 January 2021

Whatever happened to the inno-net?


I've remarked before how the relationship to the internet has changed over the last few decades - from the intrepid surfing and exploring of the early days, to amiable stumbling through to passive feeding. Well, of course, it was never going to stop there. The last couple of weeks have made me wonder if a better analogy for" being fed" could be "unwittingly poisoned".

And I'm also wondering if, these days, it's less Brave New World and more 1984.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, with the advent of Web 2.0, an optimistic and idealistic mood prevailed -  how wonderful that each and every member of the human race could communicate with anyone else they pleased - across and beyond borders. Could social media be the instrument of world peace?

But the realities of what human beings are actually like are now all too apparent, and the answer is: Not Bloody Likely. I'd love to know how often the word "toxic" is used in on- and offline conversations today compared to even twenty years ago.

Human beings don't like other human beings disagreeing with them. Neither do they like to be ignored.

And it's well known that nothing pleases human beings better than having their own opinions confirmed and amplified by others of a similar view. Hence the efforts built into the algorithms to keep people "inside the corral", as Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, puts it: "the algorithms feed us incrementally more lurid notions of our own dispositions." And this, of course, is in the platform's interest, to sell more advertising space.

I'm not on Twitter, but I did experience the diffusion of an online forum for writers a few years ago. The forum was run on some fairly shaky technology, and in the early days was a convivial and collegial sort of place. Of course we had differences of opinion, but we were all writers, right?

But at some point it started to go sour. A few righteous souls started stamping around and policing the place, which naturally led to individuals of a loud and rebellious nature taking a few pot shots back. Entertaining at first, but inevitably it all got rather tiresome, and writing took a second place. There were even accusations of fixing competition results - a microcosm of what's happening across the pond, if you like. Then at some point the shaky old software finally gave up the ghost.

New groups formed - a big shiny commercial one from the original hosts, as well as others created by individuals of one hue or another. It's accepted we'll never be the big happy friendly cloud crowd we were ten years ago - although maybe that was an illusion, too.

This brings me to this article by Aris Roussinos which suggests that maybe Europe needs to get out of the information and (Big) tech stranglehold as well as China's industrial and economic stranglehold. Could this be the beginning of the deglobalisation of the Internet? A European, civilisational internet?

Or maybe just civilised would be a start.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Scale of economies

 I never studied Economics, which probably accounts for a lot - it's something I've sort of muddled through and picked up as I've gone along. We touched on socialism and capitalism as systems for how production, distribution and consumption work at school, in History, and since then I've become aware of the various variants on and hybrids of these basic models. Overall, how resources are managed and value, in terms of goods, services and quality of life is produced.

Throughout my working life, various expressions including the word "economy" have come in and out of vogue. When I started work, in the 1980s, there was a lot of talk about how we were moving from a production economy to a service economy, and as we moved into the 1990s, chatter about the information economy and the attention economy was all the rage. There's still plenty of chit-chat about the latter.

Moving on to the next millennium and, in the wake of advertising agencies re-inventing themselves, up popped the ideas economy and the experience economy. Whether "economy" was exactly the right word for these concepts, or whether "current obsession" might have been more honest, is debatable. 

In the last few years, I've been aware of the ideas of the circular economy (sensible), the gig economy (euphemism) and the purpose economy (hmmm).

What's interesting is that many of these ideas are still circulating, and I think it's yet another example of less neat and tidy "from - to" and more cumulative, with everything piling on top of each other.

My prediction for this year is for two more economies to join the merry band. There's the wellness economy for starters. I thought we'd done and dusted wellness fifteen years ago, but it's back with a Covid-propelled vengeance, fanned by the flutterings of self-care, it seems. 

And the other rising star is the identity economy (I can hear the groans from here). There's all sorts of self-improvement and personal growth gubbins attached to this one - "brand me", "being the best version of yourself" (I've often wondered - in whose eyes?), "authentic self-discovery" and "life as an identity project."

But maybe the part brands can play in the super shiny identity economy is not so new. If it's all about the question "who can X brand help me to become?",  then my thoughts go all the way back to saving up my money aged 13 to buy a Ben Sherman shirt.

Brands have always been expressions of status and identity, even if what we mean by those terms may change.