A couple of nights ago, at my history book club meeting, we had a spirited discussion comparing China vs. US from governmental, cultural and social perspectives. Not sure we came away with anything we collectively agreed as the “best way” but it certainly got me thinking – as I did throughout reading the book Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos.
One thing we did agree on is the long-time reliable political ruse of finding an external enemy to take the public’s eyes off domestic issues. (China – South China Sea; Argentina – Falklands; US – North Korea; Take your pick – USA.)
Over a decade ago I started pointing out to clients that websites were a new leveler. Big companies can look small; small companies can look big (or vice versa). But websites also provided a new way to warp the truth. Promises can be made or implied that can be hard to suspect or disprove, except in the rear-view mirror.
I have written before about social media apps creating “micro-groups.” Now, we are seeing huge pushes toward “micro-nations” (e.g., Catalan, Kurdistan, California). By various means, we are pushing to surround ourselves only with other versions of “me.”
More than ever, “news” is part of the mix. Prior to the advent of the internet, the press that any one person was exposed to was small enough to read/watch and compare. It was further “contained” by accepted and pursued standards and ethics. The first weakening came with the rise of CNN and round-the-clock news. News started blurring the lines with entertainment in the search for content (and profit). Once news could be a money-maker, everyone wanted in. Now there is a deluge of news sources. But, just like micro-grouping, we pick the one that supports what we already “know;” one that supports our worldview.
Far from the standards of Brokaw and Jennings, whose legacies of integrity are fading day by day, people now demand only homeopathic concentrations of truth to support arguments and theories. We no longer search for truth; we search for validation. We have all the knowledge in the world available to us, but we seek just the parts that say we’re right.
This is leading to a world where small groups separate themselves from others via ideology, using manufactured or selective facts to support a view, and then demonizing everyone on the outside. It is happening in our Facebook feeds, our schools, our states, our nations. Dangerously, these groups (and don’t kid yourself, we’re all in them), see any form of compromise that asks the group to change, as a price too big to pay. And, those seen as doing the asking are often virulently attacked for it.
As someone who has spent his career in the study of psychographics, it is very interesting to watch. Outrage, that in times past may have dissipated after a quick water cooler chat, is now stoked and exponentially amplified by micro-group rage-athons.
From a marketing perspective, it is ever more important to identify (and deliver!) communications without hitting “triggers” that might bring down a firestorm of ill-will. I don’t mean creating fluff, I mean creating thoughtful and purposeful messages, delivered without detrimental distractions. Language, particularly the English language, is, and always has been, in constant evolution. Increasingly, we are in a time when fast and loose communications are an unforgiving minefield. — Your “gut feel” does not feel your neighbor’s gut.
Be careful out there...
The biggest problem with the tech giants is not their monopolistic control of the market, it is their unrestrained and growing control of Americans’ behavior. The power that the large social media companies wield over our lives and the level to which they are controlling us is frightening.
Imagine if we used our current experience to reinvent schools and redesign cities. If we had a mixture of learning online with “playing” on-site; if we gave less real estate to our cars and more to housing. The beauty about going through such a time of fracture is that the opportunity cost for deploying bold ideas seems low.
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