AWSC: Internet-bad vs Internet-good: Mitch Joel and Andrew Keen Debate the Influence of the Internet

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 Quite frankly I believe that those dated definitions of social structure are no longer applicable to how we exist today.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.

Millennials misunderstood

Last week during AWX one of the hot topics was Millenials. How it is hard to understand us as a target market and how all of us are incredibly entitled.

This is an issue I can go on about for a long time. But I wont, there was quite a few people writing about this on AWSC. Instead I will just share the two points that came up last week in a Twitter discussion:

And one more:


I would love to hear your thoughts!

The Collapse of Panopticon or How Social Media Made Foucault Proud

The communication patterns have undoubtedly changed since Marshall Mcluhan stated that the medium was the message. With uninterrupted real time communication streams the message is quite often the user, the medium no longer is the sole proprietor of this stream. When Mr. Mcluhan made that statement the pattern was one-to-many and now it is many-to-many, and than perhaps to another -many in a matter of seconds. Somewhere in between the ‘manies’ the light went up in my head but before I clear up the bright idea I have to talk about its historical backbone…
In the late 17th century Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon prison which was later adopted by Michel Foucault as a metaphorical discipline system in Discipline and Punish. According to this theory one who cannot be seen watches everyone from an observation point. With the rise of the media as a whole, the rise of data mining for marketing purposes and consumer surveillance the Panopticon model was adopted towards media, media makers and gatekeepers who were watching us while we were not seeing them. In this model, the consumer was powerless, her hands were tied. There was very little transparency, no accountability, and no response.

Jumping from that point in time, which was not further back than 2004 (Facebook), to today the difference is tremendous. We are now many, we are now legion and we all fight back. Social media brought with it a literal global village, a global village Mcluhan or even Benedict Anderson would have never imagined. In this imagined community the members not only read the same articles and watch the same shows at the same time but respond, retweet, and talk back to each other and to the ‘man’ regardless of location and of whether the man is a brand or a policy maker. This new global twiterville community is in complete collaboration.

The response existed before, just think of the Dell forum fiasco, but the rate and speed at which it appears today is almost as fast as the speed of light. The Panopticon has caved to the point of un-recognition since the rise of twitter and the resulting increased consumer resistance to bullshit. A brand, any brand, has to be in complete touch  with social media or else they will tank clueless. If the consumer is dissatisfied with the product the consumer will speak up and in twitter time, depending on how socially savvy the consumer is, crisis management may be needed instantaneously. Negativity, just like gossip, does not just spread fast – it goes viral.

I will not go as far as to say that the Panopticon has collapsed completely, there is still that small matter of national security and public safety which it fully applies to but when it comes to media and corporate world the later does not stand a chance. This many-to-many model calls for well maintained brand equity and complete transparency. A brand today needs to be babied and watched over at all times to avoid the disease that is public opinion. I am aware that using the word ‘disease’ may seem negative, but it is a disease if you are a brand caught up in a twitter crisis. For the rest of us, the advertisers and marketers, designers, trend hunters and voyeurists this new digital community offers unlimited access to public opinion and insight into the target market’s mind that could not have been possibly imagined before even through an extensive ethnographic fieldwork.

On Generation Y

This is the recap of the previously mentioned worthwhile FGI event: “Y They Buy: the reality of Gen Y’s purchasing habits.”

Panelist: John Muscat and Jennifer Wells from Line Clothing, Sara Casselman from Fashion Magazine, Chris Lee from Marketing Group Canada, Shannon Willard from Roxy and a representative from Due West and Next Door Clothing Companies.
Moderator: Victor Barac, consultant, Applied Anthropology Consulting.

I found this lecture particularly interesting perhaps because it talked about my generation, it was fascinating to hear people talk about who you are in such depth, about you not as a unique individual but as a consumer with mood swings.

First of all Victor Barac pointed out that Generation Y is the generation which drives the current market. We like to spend and we spend a lot. Gen Y grew up with the new technologies and although those technologies are not the first nature to the group per se they are definitely taken advantage of. One of the key characteristics was not just the emphasis on the technological toys  but the desire to have balance between personal life and career. We want it all and we want it now.

When this generation was growing up the average age was over 30, they grew up with mature public and are therefore more mature and responsible in their own doings. They demand transparency and accountability in almost everything and there is no way of withholding information from that intelligence.

What was said and is very useful to the consumer driven market is that Generation Y is a very  aware and picky shopper: the products must be quality, affordable and on the trend; they must be digital, accessible and customizable; everything should be available when they want them and where they want them.

They are their own style experts, creating their own trends and their own denim wash which the market desperately tries to follow. It definitely is all about the ‘cool factor’ but as soon as the ‘cool’ becomes cool the trend setters move on. The idea is not new, we’ve seen this before with the emergence of trend hunters (i.e. PBS documentary “The Merchants of Cool” 2001) the difference however, is the speed with which the changes are coming. The ‘fast’ is immediate: new clothing lines come in weekly, the magazines are struggling to keep up with exclusive news, everything is live on twitter, everyone is on the front line.

The bottom line is: we buy because we can create our own future.

The image was show by Victor Barac during his lecture and belogns to Le Soleil, Quebec City Newspaper (January 22, 2008) 

The full version of the The Merchants of Cool could be viewed here