There are a lot of topics that spark debates: religion, politics, Mac vs PC, Nikon vs Canon, Patriots vs Seahawks, and the list goes on. The good thing about debates is that they spark a healthy conversation. The bad things about debates is that sometimes you just have to agree to disagree.
Some debates are vanilla, some debates appear to be chocolate and end up being chocolate chunks with a drizzle. Earlier this week I got to witness a debate that ended up being the later: Is the Internet the Answer? Debating its Future Influence on Marketing and our Lives at FFW Advertising Week Canada.
Andrew Keen is an entrepreneur who recently released a book The Internet Is Not The Answer, in which he argues that the Internet contributes to inequality, unemployment, and surveillance. Mitch Joel, on the other hand, is a man behind the Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete, living and breathing digital revolution. Needless to say looking at the credentials of the panelists it was clear the debate was going to heat up.
Keen approaches the Internet the same way people looked at the Industrialization referring to the days when we stood in line to pick up a newspaper as the old-days. As soon as he made his opening statement it became clear I was going to stay on Joel’s court regardless of my education background being in the good-old-communications.
After stating that the Internet, and digitalization as a whole, are the cause of unemployment Keen referred to the jobs created by the Internet as the Gig Economy which takes jobs away from the working class. Quite frankly I believe that those dated definitions of social structure are no longer applicable to how we exist today. People of the ‘working class’ often exceed the incomes of white collar jobs and we are not a caste society. North America has gone through a rough recession and the Internet has allowed for people to not only expand their business using the World Wide Web but create their own jobs and run business they would not have been able to otherwise.
The web has an ability to increase visibility, grow customer base, and reach overseas markets. Without web presence a business is not a business and these days sometimes all you need to be a business is a website. Owning a retail store is an expense that runs many people into the ground but running a store on-line can be done by a single person out of a living room and many people do it quite successfully.
In the old days without the Internet bands could not be bands if they were unsigned. Today, even in this saturated music market, bands can become popular without any label support by getting their music out there for people to hear. You no longer absolutely need a music label to survive, talent and hard work can actually get you fame. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis got signed after they released The Heist and while they do charge for their music some bands (like Odesza) choose to giveaway their music for free making bank on tours, merchandise, and the ever-increasing demand for vinyl.
Admittedly the journalism industry was the most impacted by the Internet but it also allowed for people who could not get their content through to print publications become a person of interest for those same publications by growing a readership through their personal blogs (Mitch Joel being one of them). It allowed stay-at-home moms, retirees and people with weird hobbies to find ways to make money, supplement their income and survive with grace by doing what they enjoy. Yes it comes at the cost of advertising, but what business doesn’t need advertising to survive?
To touch on Keen’s last point, surveillance, I would like to bring your attention back to the good-old-days of Michel Foucault and Jeremy Bentham (the Panopticon model) – surveillance has always existed and it will always exist with or without our consent. There are probably at least a dozen cameras you pass on your way to work, do you know where that footage lives?
The Internet offers us a choice to decline the situations in which we are going to be surveyed at the cost of not using the services but we chose to agree at the cost of knowing that our information will be used (at least) for targeted advertising.
Internet is progress. It was that way when it first became a term and it will continue to be so simply because we cannot control it as a single enterprise. Although the web is governed in many ways at the end of the day it is a digital world created and operated by people.
The digital revolution is what we can do with the tools the Internet has to offer and while I agree that the fruits of such technology are not beneficial in all parts of the world (and not even in all parts of North America) the modern society we live in here now has been benefiting from the benefits of the Internet in ways no one had expected even when the built the first Personal Computer.
Originally published on Advertising Week Social Club here.