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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Digital Denial Devices

It doesn't take more than a casual perusal of the daily news to frighten the hell out of most people. Whether it's a war in Iraq, nuclear ambitions or Iran or the pathetic sabre rattling of North Korea, we can always rely on the media to bring us one more reason to declare life on earth at the edge of disaster.

If it's not a celebrity fiasco, it's a pedophile priest. If it's not the poison in your food, it's the newly-documented pseudo-science contradicting last week's "scientific study" on whatever was supposed to kill you this week. In an effort to fill their "all news, all the time" formats, networks have foregone journalistic impartiality and truth, opting instead for faux "news analyses": panels of "experts" who add little new information while pouring on lots of bias all in the interest of plugging their latest books. We get baseless predictions. Sermons. And lots of yelling. But no real news.

Not surprisingly, America has had enough pseudo-news. They're tired of it. And while any case involving the disappearance of a child is heart-rending at best, the fact that it happens in Orlando is, in truth, of no real consequence to anyone living in Seattle or Des Moines. There's simply too much unimportant news getting reported. And it's having a bigger effect on your brand than you might think.

As we speak, an increasing number of Americans are scurrying into their own little worlds, desperate to escape news that's always bad and usually irrelevant. They spend more and more time cocooning where they can find shelter from mass media, protected by Digital Denial Devices. -- or as I prefer to call them, D3's. No matter where you look, technology is enabling them, allowing to plug and play the things they want to hear and see, when they choose to hear and see them.

The internet is a fabulous D3. Not only do you get to hear the news when you want to hear it, you also get the news you want to hear. Far from delivering its early advocates promise of "equal access to information", the web has proven itself much more efficient as a propaganda tool. If you don't like the spin al Jazeera twists on Israel, no problem. Simply point your browser at debka.com for the pro-Israel viewpoint. Better yet, compose your Yahoo or Google start page with RSS feeds from only those news sources whose political viewpoints support your own. That way, you can start every day substantiating the illusion that you're in sync with the rest of the world.

Only you're not. And that's destroying your brand. Read on.

Cell phones and Blackberries are terrific D3's. It's now gotten to the point where nobody thinks twice of invading other people's spaces by "taking this call" and then yammering on for hours in their own self-interest as if nobody else is in the room. More complete disrespect for other human beings. More perfect denial. And it gets worse.

Parents throughout the country wake up every morning to drive carpools to schools. The cars are filled with kids, yet the car is strangely quiet. There is no conversation. No human interaction. There can't be, because the kids who used to talk to each other are all plugged into their iPods, each one listening to the kind of music that only they appreciate. There is no compromise. No recognition of other people's likes and dislikes. Just more denial of other people's existence.

The kids that aren't plugged into iPods have their eyes and ears locked in on their Gameboys, too busy to notice anyone or anything nearby. And thousands of families drive hundreds of miles on road trip vacations, but never without the DVD players built into the roof: Never mind what's out the window. It's what's on the screen that counts. The Suburban could drive past Mount Rushmore and nobody would so much as notice, because "this is the part where her throat gets slashed."

Don't get me wrong. I love technology. I think it's terrific. In fact, I couldn't earn a living without it. What's killing me - and the world - are these Digital Denial Devices. They're killing us because they give us the opportunity to not care about anything else around us. As long as our own needs are fulfilled, as long as we get the news, listen to the music and watch the shows that we want, we really don't care about anything or anyone else.

And that's bad. Bad for your brand. Bad for the world.

It's bad for the world, because when people cease to involve themselves with other human beings, they also fail to keep pace with other people's wants and needs. By sequestering themselves behind D3's, they create the illusion that all is well and that the rest of the world is in sync with them, rather than the other way around. Keep that up and not too long after, worlds collide. The next thing you know, westerners in denial wake up wondering why radical muslims from an equally closed society are pronouncing death sentences on Americans. In return, fortressed Americans gear up their defenses, sending hundreds of thousands of American kids to "protect our way of life."

The sad truth is that it's all fairly avoidable. If technology were used for inclusion and exposure, instead of exclusion and narrow focus, the world's population would be raised on tolerance for differences. They would accept differences among cultures as easily as they currently reject them, because they'd have been exposed to them on a daily basis.

That's not happening. In fact, marketers, media and advertising technology is pointing in exactly the opposite direction. Hailed in the name of efficiency, techno-dopes trumpet their talents for seeking out "only those an advertiser needs to hit", not realizing their efforts only further the trend of digital denial. That's not only harmful to humanity, it's harmful to your brand. Here's why:

For a brand to truly succeed, it had to be perceived as "the only solution to their problem." But for a brand to thrive, it has to be evangelized as "the only solution to their problem." People have to interact and share information. They have to communicate. If they don't, there's no way they can articulate and share information -- including how terrific your brand is.

Al Gore likes to claim that global climate change is the single most crucial moral issue of our time. He's wrong. What's the point of changing the weather, if there's nobody left to discuss it with?

More at http://www.RobFrankel.com

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