Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Count to ten and breathe slowly into the brown paper bag

Before I start, let me say I am not a technology laggard, a Facebook hater or in general a person who longs for a life more simple; filled with rotary phones and weekends at the allotment.
With that said, I gave a lecture last week at a University in Singapore (yeah, I know, scary) and was enjoying a post presentation coffee when I was approached by one of the students from the lecture. For about ten minutes, this nice guy gave me his point of view about all things technology and new media and why it was revolutionizing the world – all delivered with a Def Con 3 level of self confidence that only 3/4 of an MBA can give you.
My point to him was, that while all of this new stuff was exciting and consequential, it was important not to miss the fact that the underlying human motivations have not really changed and that these things he was fawning over were symptomatic of a more important and slower moving thing – humanity.
As you can imagine, this didn’t go down too well and the new media fawn-fest went on. I finally gave him an example of why I believed that the fundamentals of marketing had not in fact changed despite all the changes. My example was a simple one, that what’s at the heart of new media isn’t new at all, in fact it’s very old.
Since time began, humans have been about sociability – things that today we would readily attribute to things of a social media nature – storytelling, connecting, talking, sharing opinions, getting closer (1-2-1), building communities and exercising word of mouth. It’s just that in the past, before we lived in blocks of flats and flew around in planes, we didn’t need social media or things like that – in Roman times, the equivalent of ‘signing in’ to Facebook was knocking on a neighbor’s front door. Ebay was the forum and tweeting was done via a distinctly bricks and mortar pedestal called the Rostra.
To me, new media is simply old media fundamentals brought to life through new and constantly changing technology. What’s at the core remains pretty much the same – I think the quote is something like “technology changes, people don’t” – and I think we’d do well to keep this in mind.
Clay Shirky agrees with me too, which is nice. In a recent (excellent) McKinsey podcast he said the following of today’s net-generation “they’re not different kinds of people than we were when we were their age, human nature hasn’t changed. But, behavior is motivation filtered through opportunity [and today the opportunities open to people are different and greater]” I couldn’t have put it better myself, really.

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