Posts by Tim Leberecht
As the world slowly emerges from the economic gloom, and the “hyper-social real-time web” requires new organizational designs, it’s clear that business as usual will not be so usual anymore. Yet fundamental concerns remain, both for business leaders, who face the challenge of innovating in a hyper-transparent and always-on environment, and for consumers, who are increasingly searching for non-economic values amidst the shattered trust in business and the information overload. Smart companies recognize the historic opportunity to transform the way they do business and provide customers with more value-rich, sustainable, and meaningful products, services, and business models. From “un-entitlement” to “disruptive realism” to “for-profit activism” — here are some of the new paradigms that shape meaning-driven brands.
GE, which is widely known for its rigorous, metrics-based performance management, is changing course and shifting attention to social intelligence, empathy, and listening skills. The company is putting 1,000 managers through their paces to learn how to react to sometimes imperceptible signs of change. While this is not entirely new at GE or any other company, GE is striking a refreshing tone, admitting that: “We don’t have all the answers.” In A Whole New Mind – Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, Dan Pink wrote several years ago that “Creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers are holding the keys to the new empire,” and GE, humbled by the recession, is catching up with that insight. It emphasizes context over text, the Big Picture over details, listening over brand control and messaging discipline.
Ma Yun, the president of Alibaba, the world’s largest online B2B marketplace, requested that the 18 co-founders resign from current positions in the company and re-apply for jobs – a radical measure to reshape the company’s culture and administration in order to face new challenges in e-commerce after one decade of fast growth.
The employees of large US retailer Costco are known to be incredibly loyal, which can be attributed to a host of exceptional programs and benefits to motivate them. It doesn’t hurt that Costco pays, on average, $17 an hour, which is 42 percent higher than the average hourly pay of its fiercest rival, Sam’s Club. And Costco’s health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogeish. Costco’s CEO, James Sinegal, firmly believes that keeping employees satisfied and committed will result in profitability for the organization in the long run. With such a loyal employee base, Costco can maintain the luxury of relying only on word-of-mouth, not having a PR department, and striving to connect with its customers solely through the in-store experience.
RADICAL TRANSPARENCY: Dachis Group
On the Social Web, companies may soon need to share everything about their business, including complaints, profit margins on particular products, and even corporate strategies. In the spirit of Radical Transparency, companies could even make their live email correspondence public. An open and interactive email feed may propel knowledge sharing and collaboration, but also an ongoing conversation that customers, partners, and global media can join. A first step in this direction is the list of outbound emails (“ABC just sent an email to XYZ”) that the Dachis Group, a global social business consultancy, publishes on its web site. It draws the visitor into a stream of real-time events and provides a snapshot of the company’s social graph. This openness, not to mention the implied social references (in a sense, the email recipients vouch with their name), builds trust.
OPEN INNOVATION: Nike + Creative Commons, Best Buy
Nike is committed to developing products that use sustainable materials and are designed for easy disassembly. In its commitment to protecting the environment, the company is sharing its knowledge so other businesses can do the same. Nike has partnered with Creative Commons and Best Buy to support a shared vision of “creating a platform that promotes the creation and adoption of technologies that have the potential to solve important global or industry-wide sustainability challenges.” Together they have formed the GreenXchange. The project aims to develop strategies for using patents and know-how to facilitate and promote open innovation. In late October, 2009, Nike also entered a partnership with social innovation network PopTech as the first participant in the PopTech Labs to “foster open collaboration on key innovation challenges.” Each of the PopTech Labs will bring together a select group of leading scientific researchers, engineers, designers, corporate leaders, policymakers and other key stakeholders around a single topic of research in areas of vital importance to business, society, and the planet.
Best Buy‘s mantra is “the company as wiki.” The company is tapping into its 130,000 employees to market its brand rather than just relying on the marketing staff to do so. It is a great example of how a major company has redefined its attitude towards control and information.
NOWISM: Zara, TCHO, Zappos
Customers always want it faster, that’s not news. But the implications of the real-time web are more profound and affect the way organizations operate and adapt their business models to the new and ever-changing demands of immediacy. Zara, the Spanish clothing chain, uses customer feedback to develop new clothes, in near real-time. TCHO, the San Francisco-based chocolatier, relies on continuous flavor development and customer feedback to drive constantly evolving versions of its dark chocolate, with variations emerging as often as every 36 hours. Zappos, the online shoe retailer, successfully combines real-time customer service on Twitter with near-real-time product delivery.
GLOCALISM: FC Barcelona
FC Barcelona (“Barca”) was one of the first soccer clubs to be founded in Spain, and it became a haven for Catalan sentiment when Catalan self-government and culture were proscribed during Franco’s dictatorship. The club emerged as the playful manifesto of Catalonia’s spiritual independence, and since then, nowhere has soccer been more fundamental to the sense of identity than in Barcelona. It is ironic that a club rooted deeply in Catalan nationalism has such an international following. But Barca’s appeal is so global precisely because its roots are so local. Barca represents the Catalan people while at the same time creating a sense of belonging to “beauty and excellence.” The meaning of Barca transcends the boundaries of sports and nations, and embodies the universal values of sportsmanship and integrity. Barca is fully owned by its members, unlike most other big soccer clubs – which are either in the hands of large corporations or American (Manchester United) and Russian (FC Chelsea) billionaires – and the members possess significant voting power. Based on its spirit of independence, the club has always taken on broader social issues and played a pivotal role in promoting diversity, tolerance, and peace worldwide. Barca’s partnership with UNICEF is a statement of the club’s continuing efforts to be at the forefront of solidarity projects with a global reach. Under the agreement, which bears the slogan “Barcelona, more than a club, a new global hope for vulnerable children,” Barca contributes to the financing of UNICEF humanitarian projects and endorses UNICEF on its shirts – it is the only major European team not to wear an advertisement.
COMMUNITY MARKETPLACE: Etsy
Etsy is an online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade: clothing, music, furniture, software, jewelry, robots. Since launching in June, 2005, the company has experienced incredible growth with hundreds of thousands of sellers globally. A grassroots community has developed amongst its buyers and sellers, and Etsy facilitates these interactions. For example, Alchemy is a space on Etsy where members can post requests for custom handmade items, and sellers submit bids to create them. Etsy also helps bring its online community to real-world teams (organized by location or type of craft) for its sellers to connect and share ideas. Etsy’s mission is “to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice. Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.”
With its Expedition 206 campaign, Coca-Cola is tapping regular people to be their “Happiness Ambassadors” and travel the world throughout 2010, documenting their quests via blog posts, tweets, YouTube videos, TwitPics, and other social media tools. The goal of the campaign is to “find happiness” in 206 different countries that sell Coca-Cola products around the globe. The winning three-person team, selected out of numerous applications, began its journey on January 1, 2010 and is attempting to travel more than 150,000 miles in 365 days. On the way, the team will experience the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and the World Expo in Shanghai. The team’s duty is to engage with locals and uncover what makes them happy, openly document and share their experiences online, and complete tasks in each country as determined by online voters. The campaign connects the ambassadors, and by proxy, the global Coca-Cola customer base, with locals. Through immersion, it will generate empathy and understanding for local cultures. On the web, the campaign will “activate” a dormant network of Coke fans that will follow the ambassadors’ travels and connect with each other. By connecting people from different cultures, Coca-Cola offers a way of looking at the world and creates social wealth: better mutual understanding through enhanced intercultural knowledge.
ONLINE ACTIVISM: Pepsi Co.
For the first time in 23 years, Pepsi Co. decided not to run any advertisements during the Super Bowl in 2010. Instead, the nation’s second-biggest soft drink maker plowed marketing dollars into its Pepsi Refresh Project, an online community that allows Pepsi fans to list their public service projects, which could range from helping to feed people to teaching children to read. Visitors to the site can vote to determine which projects receive money. The program will pay at least $20 million for projects people create to “refresh” communities. Last year, Pepsi Co. spent $33 million advertising products such as Pepsi, Gatorade, and Cheetos during the Super Bowl, according to TNS Media Intelligence, $15 million of it on Pepsi alone. Ad time last year for the NFL championship game cost about $3 million for 30 seconds, on average. Pepsi Co. spokeswoman Nicole Bradley said Super Bowl ads don’t work with the company’s future goals: “In 2010, each of our beverage brands has a strategy and marketing platform that will be less about a singular event and more about a movement.”
RADICAL CROWDSOURCING: Victors & Spoils (V&S)
Two Crispin Porter + Bogusky alums have launched Victors & Spoils (V&S), “the world’s first creative agency built on crowd-sourcing principle.” V&S says it will “provide businesses with a better way to solve their marketing, advertising and product-design problems by engaging the world’s most talented creatives.” V & S is eating its own dog food. The first line you notice on its web site (after the humble “Welcome to Victors & Spoils. Let’s Change an Industry”) is “Why does this site look so plain, Jane?” and the answer is: because the site design, the look and feel, and even the logo are being crowd-sourced. V&S received thousands of applications for crowdsourced projects in the first week after launch.
CREATIVE CONVERGENCE: British Airports Authority and Alain De Botton’s Heathrow Diary
The Swiss writer Alain De Botton was commissioned by the British Airports Authority (BAA) to spend a week in the middle of Heathrow’s bustling Terminal 5 and write about life at the airport. Dan Glover, creative director at Mischief, BAA’s PR agency, said that “If we funded a brochure that said how wonderful the airport was, people would switch off because they’d think they’re being marketed to.” Instead, he added, the Heathrow Diary campaign sought to stimulate “branded conversations” among travelers “through the experience of seeing a top literary figure at the airport — and potentially being a character in the book — and by receiving an exclusive copy to read on your travels. The overarching objective is to make a passenger’s time at Heathrow the best memory of the trip.”
PRESENCE THROUGH ABSENCE: Maison Martin Margiela, +/-0
Instead of crafting a story around its clothing line, Cult fashion brand Maison Martin Margiela (MMM) has remained swathed in anonymity throughout its 20-year history. Namesake designer Martin Margiela chose to remain out of the spotlight, and it was this invisibility that helped to develop the brand. MMM became a household name and its admirers, devout acolytes of the brand. This cult of impersonality spread through the aesthetic of the brand: Stores are never listed in phone books or identified with signage; staff at stores and at Margiela HQ wear standard white lab coats; white is also the ubiquitous color of all stores, MMM’s HQ, and the sheets that cover all in-store furniture and displays; packaging is monochrome and logo-free; models at MMM often appear on the runway with covered faces; seating is mostly first-come, first-served, avoiding the industry standard of seating hierarchy; and the company uses a first person plural response to all inquiries, emphasizing the collaborative, disciple-like consensus of their thoughts.
Japanese brand +/-0 strives to offer “only the things we need.” In response to a belief that many of the products found in the global marketplace are superfluous, +/-0 seeks to design necessities that last a lifetime. The firm has dedicated its business to creating things that “people feel they have truly wanted. Things that seemed like they already existed but didn’t.” These things enter the market without fanfare. The products are carefully designed so the fact that they are unseen makes them appear to have always been there: “Because these things ‘seem to have already existed,’ people feel comfortable with those things, even though they have never seen them before. It is the feeling of having seen the actual shapes of things that people have obscurely, or even unconsciously, felt they have wanted. That is why these things naturally ‘dissolve’ into people’s behavior and into the space around them.” +/-0 began in September, 2003 in Tokyo. The website launched in December of the same year with the quiet unveiling of the first collection by design director Naoto Fukasawa. Since then, the company has garnered widespread attention in the design world for its understated composition. Fukasawa’s personal philosophy is that he’s designing for the gaps, bringing to life a “shared sense” of what should be there.
DISRUPTIVE REALISM: UNICEF
Disruptive Realism is an expression presented in an everyday context that disrupts people’s perceptions about different things. The most prominent example to date has been Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which was meant as entertainment and commentary on how evolution had been twisted into Social Darwinism. Regardless of its intention, the broadcast caused mass hysteria. More recent examples include Banksy’s graffiti, Bruno Taylor’s work, which involves physical designs such as the swing set in the bus stop, or Reverse Graffiti artist’s Paul Curtis’ “Pictures by Cleaning.” Disruptive Realism was also used in a campaign conducted by UNICEF in Finland. Wanting to raise awareness of children’s rights, the “Be a Mom for a Moment” campaign placed unattended blue strollers with a crying baby audio track in crowded places in 14 cities. When passers-by looked in the strollers, they found a note with the message: “Thank you for caring, we hope there are more people like you. UNICEF – Be a mom for a moment.” The media and public reaction was overwhelming, with coverage in all major TV, radio, and web news.
FOR-PROFIT ACTIVISM: Virgance
The San Francisco-based venture fund Virgance aims to support social causes through multi-pronged campaign platforms that resemble the way Obama for America mobilized its supporters, and it typically consists of four core elements: A web-empowered network of volunteers, a presence on Facebook, a team of paid bloggers to promote the campaigns, and YouTube viral videos. Virgance is not the first for-profit-do-gooder of course; there have been plenty of others whose business models combine bottom line thinking with social value. But Virgance is more like Facebook Causes. It adopts the forces of amateur self-organization described in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody and builds its entire business on a social web platform, embracing the principles of open-sourcing, mass collaboration, and transparency: “If a for-profit company did the type of work that non-profits often do, but did it more efficiently, would people trust it the same way they trust non-profits?”
Some languages are more precise than others. German’s word for disappointment, “Enttäuschung,” for example, literally translates as “disillusion” and thus implies that the prerequisite of any disappointment is excessive (and false!) expectation. As if that needed any further evidence, Apple’s iPad presentation and President Obama’s first State of the Union address last Wednesday marked the preliminary culmination of an obvious trend: disappointment as a widespread sentiment and cultural subtext at the dawn of this young decade.
Both Apple and Obama are among the most powerful brands of our time and occupy that vexing space between hype and hope in the public mind. Both have zealous fans and followers, and enjoy an almost religious admiration. And both have now suffered a very public deflation, a humiliating erosion of their once unflappable appeal of invincibility, a painful rejection of love.
The Awl wrote about the iPad launch: “Still, I’m a little taken aback by the immediate and vocal lack of enthusiasm for the product. What does it lack? What was everyone hoping for that did not materialize? This is a very rough thought that I may or may not refine, so take it as such, but the iPad is a lot like Barack Obama: Everyone was able to project their own fantasies and aspirations on a product with which they were mostly unfamiliar, only to sour on it once they realized that it did not live up to their impossible expectations. Only with the iPad it took about seven minutes for the disappointment to set in. I don’t know what that says about our accelerated culture or how we confuse hype and excitement for the tangible realities of life, but it says something.”
And indeed, no product in the world could have lived up to the hype around the iPad: Apple as the inventor of human-friendly computing, Apple as the media company that enables the much desired super-convergence, Apple as the innovator of innovation, Apple as the savior of the ailing publishing industry, Apple as the savior of the Californian blend of optimism that is now set against the backdrop of a bankrupt state, Apple as the savior of capitalism. After the unveiling, we felt a bit like the car fan who realizes that what he was sold as the dream car of the future is in fact a convertible Ferrari. If Apple is the “Zeitgeist Company,” as my colleague Adam Richardson wrote, then our zeitgeist is the Midlife Crisis.
While the real creativity can be found on the web, where the iPad release spurred a throng of irreverent spoofs and thoughtful analyses, the actual product – ouch – is a let-down, for reasons that have been extensively addressed elsewhere and shall therefore not be restated here. At any rate, the disappointment was to be expected: For every brand that lives off of inflated expectations, things get tricky when the tangible manifestation shows signs of all-too-human imperfection. The iPad, in this sense, did not represent the “humanization of technology,” as some people waxed lyrical. Rather, it was the humanization of Apple, as the many obvious flaws made the divine brand suddenly appear sloppy, erratic, and shockingly out-of-touch with the consumer.
My colleague Robert Fabricant has already poignantly commented on the retro-futurism exhibited by the iPad, likening Steve Job’s nostalgic vision of the future to the megalomaniac naiveté of James Cameron’s Avatar. Perhaps that ‘s what’s really at the core of this recent streak of disappointments: the depressing insight that in the very moment we believe to finally have the tools and intellectual aptness to shape the future, some old-man-made visions of tomorrow’s better world betray our infinite utopian hope. Last year’s LIFT conference had a pretty good instinct for the emerging cultural climate when it chose as its theme: “Where did the future go?”
Yes, the digital joyride has come to an end. The faith in smart technology, collective knowledge, and data-driven human reasoning has suffered severe blows of late. Neither did social technology unleash the revolutionary potential of the Iranian people after the election, nor did sophisticated financial instruments prevent the financial crisis or the Copenhagen Summit yield a meaningful solution for combating the climate crisis. Wikipedia has not made us wiser; conflicts remain unresolved; ignorance prevails – in spite of the social capital accumulated on social networks, time and place-shifting transnational hyper-connectivity, and design thinking.
“The Social Web is like the Sixties,” Donovan sang at last week’s DLD conference in Munich, a gathering of the digital elite headed to Davos. That sounded good but the reality is less flowery: while the Social Web may provide a sheer endless array of possibilities, a movement it is not (in hindsight, the online activism during the Obama campaign remains a footnote of history). And with the iPad, the Social Web has been contained as a mechanism for mere consumption.
On a panel at DLD, John Brockman (Edge.org), David Gelernter (Yale), Frank Schirrmacher (arts & leisure editor of German daily FAZ), and Andrian Kreye (arts & leisure editor of German daily SZ) discussed the state of the Internet and the state of information technology overall. The mood was dark. Schirrmacher, the cultural pessimist, warned of the age of the “Informavore,” as artificial intelligence supersedes human’s ability to intellectually cope with information overload. He quoted Daniel Dennett (“We have a population explosion of ideas, but not enough brains to cover them”) and painted a grim picture of the future of media: With the big Internet gatekeepers (and their search algorithms) regulating attention markets, media should shift their attention to the culture of software – or it would be filtered out by that very software sooner or later. Gelernter bemoaned the lack of advances in user interfaces (“we still use the same metaphors we used twenty years ago”), and Kreye found the current Web “boring” (“the Web is like a car now; the fact that it is moving is no longer interesting. What matters is what we do with it, and where we’re going.”). Brockman finally killed the discussion altogether by wryly telling his fellow panelists that “your time is over. You are over.”
The Obama party is over, too, and the President’s State of the Union address made that palpable. Only a year after his inauguration, which many Americans celebrated as liberation, the Republican opposition flexes its muscle again, but what’s even more remarkable, Obama’s once most fervent supporters on the left show a complete lack of enthusiasm. Rational arguments fall short of explaining this phenomenon. The Obamameter by PolitiFact shows that Obama didn’t break too many campaign promises (with some notable and controversial exceptions of course). By and large, he didn’t make profound mistakes, he didn’t change course. He did take on the heavy battles and the complex challenges America is facing, as he said he would. He may have made some miscalculations as he set his first-year agenda, but fixing healthcare was the only plausible choice in the end. It is striking: a country that elected a president who had campaigned in the name of change is now rescinding its mandate for it. Conservatism is the mask of the fool who knew better all along.
The cynics have a strong ally: Disappointment is sustainable. Obama and Apple may eventually stumble over the conundrum that Thomas Hardy so aptly described: “The sudden disappointment of a hope leaves a scar which the ultimate fulfillment of that hope never entirely removes.” Maybe we just enjoy seeing our gods fall from grace. Or maybe last week’s collective sigh was an expression of the enormous emotional and spiritual effort it took to close out the past decade, resulting in a fatigue that now readily converts optimism into cynicism (as in: pragmatism without principles), which has again, unfortunately, become the most powerful currency of our intellectual discourse. It remains to be seen if this is a temporary sentiment or if we have indeed entered a new era of permanent disappointment – an age of Grand Disillusion. If not even Apple honors our trust, who else is left to believe in?
[Image: Cult of Mac]
As widely discussed by privacy advocates and blogs, Facebook recently changed some of its privacy settings. Users are no longer able to limit the viewing of their profile photos, home towns, and friends lists to only approved friends. Those are all public now by default. Moreover, Facebook’s new default settings “recommend” that dynamic content such as status messages and photos be made public.
While the blogosphere still closely scrutinizes these changes and is aghast at Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘privacy is over’ claims made at the Crunchies awards (he didn’t actually say it verbatim but his statements more or less implied it), I have to admit I was surprised that all this stirred such an uproar.
Facebook is only reacting to a larger social trend as it strives to become an asymmetrical and therefore a more growth-enabled network (or communications platform) – like Twitter. Privacy, at least a more traditional notion thereof, is the collateral damage of this strategic agenda.
With the value of reciprocity (narrowcasting) succumbing to the prospect of exponentiality (broadcasting), privacy is no longer commercially exploitable. “No one makes money off of creating private communities in an era of ‘free,’” writes social networking researcher danah boyd in a blog post in which she otherwise harshly criticizes Facebook’s move. The age of privacy as we know it might be over indeed. Is it worth fighting for?
Privacy (from the Latin ‘privatus,’ according to Wikipedia: “separated from the rest, deprived of something, especially office, participation in the government”), the “right to be let alone,” is considered a human right in most parts of the world, in spite of all cultural relativism. Historically speaking, privacy has undergone a remarkable evolution. Aristotle distinguished between the public sphere of politics and political activity, the polis, and the private or domestic sphere of the family, the oaks. If a citizen of Athens was a private man, then it meant he was stripped of any political office and therefore considered “inferior.” Later, in the enlightened civil societies of Europe, however, privacy became a hallmark of the bourgeoisie, a hard-earned privilege that marked the delineation between upper and working classes. The latter had work – if they were fortunate – the former “had a life,” because they could afford it. This life tended to be private, by definition.
In the emerging information economies of the 20th century, various theories described privacy as control over information about oneself (Parent, 1983), while others defended it as a broader concept crucial for human dignity (Bloustein, 1964), or emphasized the social aspect of it with regards to enabling intimacy (Gerstein, 1978; Inness, 1992).
Throughout their historical mutations, the public and private spheres needed one another like yin and yang. Having a life was a private act, but only if it was publicly earned and respected. This dialectic relationship will always remain. There is no privacy without publicy and vice versa. And yet, while privacy may never go away as a philosophical counterweight to publicy, today it is publicy that counts as the new privilege of the digital upper class. Privacy has been marginalized to the fringes of a society whose modus operandi is based on the very public mechanisms of social sharing. In the digital era, a private life does not exist. Google ergo sum.
The search engine’s recent public stance against the Chinese government, threatening to shut down all its China operations after Gmail accounts of Chinese activists had been hacked, highlights this new power structure and the evolving value of privacy in our ever-connected world. When the privacy of Google’s users was violated, the company decided to respond with a public statement, mounting public pressure to press on an essentially private matter. Good for a company that does not want be evil, many people applauded, but it bore a certain irony that Google acted as de facto digital state with its own foreign policy. Isn’t Google, after all, built on the very principle of making private data public? Isn’t it because of Google’s mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” that we have come to terms with the fact that our online lives and afterlives will never be private again and will be perpetually archived in the very public cloud?
In the case of Google vs. China, what was bemoaned as the loss of privacy was in fact the lack of publicy. Privacy is the most precious asset in more or less closed societies in which trust is a scarce resource and true publics don’t exist. But as we live our lives in the openness of the web, isn’t it publicy that we need to enable and protect? An ideal publicy that is so transparent and democratic that it doesn’t need privacy as refuge?
It’s complicated. Stowe Boyd has declared this to be the “Decade of Publicy,” in which he expects “the superimposition of publicy on top of, and partly obscuring, privacy:”
Publicy says that each self exists in a particular social context, and all such contracts are independent. (…) It’s as if we are gaining the ability to see into the ultraviolet and infrared ends of the social spectrum when we are online, and in some contexts we are dropping out yellows or reds. To those tied to the visible color spectrum we are habituated to, this new sort of vision will be ‘irreal.’ But ultraviolet has always existed: we just couldn’t see it before. (…) This will be a fracturing of the premises of privacy, and a slow rejection of the metaphors of shared space. The principles of publicy are derived from the intersection of infinite publics and our shared experience of time online, through media like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. The innate capability we have to shift in a heartbeat from a given public, and our corresponding persona, to another, is now being accelerated by streaming social tools. This will be the decade when publicy displaces privacy, online and off.
As we struggle to maintain the traditional, monolithic privacy-publicy dichotomy, perhaps we must start using a different terminology altogether and embrace a new concept: sociality. In a hyper-individualized society, sociality is becoming the main object of desire for individuals. Or as Markus Albers puts it in his forthcoming book about what he coins the Meconomy:
The Meconomy does not entail a purely egoistic philosophy. On the contrary, it promotes a new culture of empathy and social engagement. As we increasingly decide for ourselves how, where, and with whom we work, the search for meaning gains more importance. The trend to combine economical with social engagement grows stronger. We want to do good, be happy, and make money. In the old patriarchal, hierarchical, and inflexible working world, these aims were often mutually exclusive. In the Meconomy, their combination is almost a precondition for success.”
The semantic coincidence is telling. “Me” desires “Meaning.” As much as publicy needs privacy and vice versa, the “Meconomy” needs the “Meaning Economy” – as its co-evolutionary, symbiotic partner. With meaning emerging as the core currency of all market interactions (because it is ultimately what consumers buy; and friends, fans, and followers buy into), people, organizations, and brands that provide meaning will be the power players of the new Me(aning) Economy – brands like Apple, conferences like TED, contests like the Olympic Games, sports clubs like FC Barcelona, media organizations like NPR, non-profits like UNICEF, and, yes, politicians like Obama.
Sociality may succeed privacy because it is a critical precondition for meaning. To be meaningful, meaning needs to be shared, and sharing can only occur in open social settings. Open social settings, however, by definition, compromise privacy, in all its four textbook modes (solitude, intimacy, anonymity, and reserve). Meaning means giving things a name, making sense of “Black Swans,” unexpected events. In other words: Only an event that becomes a story (which still is the most powerful social media of all times, a true evergreen on the social web!) is meaningful.
Thus, it makes sense to replace the strict privacy-publicy opposition with a multi-layered continuum along progressive levels of sociality. Sociality may turn out to be a much better variable for describing and regulating our digital lives. The question then no longer is how private we can be, but how social we want to be. Instead of privacy settings, we should speak of sociality settings: The maximum number of friends we want to have; and through which channels we want to ‘socialize’ our contents etc. Privacy understood as sociality (as an enabling and not a defensive right) grants us the ability to control who knows what about us and who has access to us, and thereby allows us to vary our social interactions with different people so that we can control our various social relationships at different levels of intimacy.
This new sociality is most visibly manifest in online social networks. It is worth noting that these not only mirror the mechanisms of offline social interactions but actually provide users with more control over their privacy (or sociality) than they would ever have in the physical world. On Facebook and other networks, you can pick and choose the people you want to meet and share ‘presence’ with; in a restaurant, bar, and other public spaces, you can’t. Exclusivity in the real world needs to be earned, whereas online it is a given.
Bill Thompson pledges we should embrace the new liberties that come with this new radical transparency:
The enlightenment idea of privacy is breaking apart under the strain of new technologies, social tools and the emergence of the database state. We cannot hold back the tide, but we can use it as an opportunity to rethink what we understand by ‘personality,’ how we engage and interact with others and where the boundaries can be put between the public and private. Those of us who are ahead of the curve when it comes to the adoption and use of technologies that undermine the old model of privacy have much to teach those who will come after us, and can offer advice and support to those who might be unhappy to have their movements, eating habits, friendships and patterns of media consumption made available to all. But every Twitterer, Tumblr, Dopplr or Brightkite user is sharing more data with more people than even the FBI under Hoover or the Stasi at the height of its powers could have dreamed of. And we do so willingly, hoping to benefit in unquantifiable ways from this unwarranted – in all senses – disclosure. I’ll argue that we are in the vanguard of creating not just new forms of social organisation but new ways of being human.
All this openly shared user data represents not only an enourmous amount of social capital but also a huge collective leap of faith. Whether the big digital platforms and ecosystems will honor this trust to maintain civic publics or if they will choose to exploit it for (private) economic reasons, at any price, will be one of the defining moments of this young decade and the most impactful decision it will have to make. Control (as the catalyst of privacy) is good, but trust (as the catalyst of sociality) is better. We can afford to lose our privacy, but we will not survive the loss of sociality.
As we’re nearing the end of a year and the end of a decade, it’s time to look back and ahead.
Photo: Gardard Eide Einarssons’s installation on the Louisiana Museum photographed by Finn Broendum.
With at least three formative events in this young 21st century (9/11, the Tsunami, and the Great Recession) providing some sort of apocalyptic arch and instilling a profound sense of anxiety, it is no wonder that former visionaries are gathering at conferences asking “Where did the future go?” But, at the end of the day, the end of all days didn’t occur, and as the New York Magazine points out in its comprehensive review of the “Aughts”: “The Times is still published every day. There are more bicyclists on the streets than sanity would dictate.” Plus, we got Barack Obama, Mad Men, the iPhone, Twitter, and Foursquare…. and and and….
In the last days of a restless decade, we can lean back and enjoy again, with cautious relief, a modicum of optimism. When even the newsletter of management consultancy Arthur D. Little – not necessarily known for being conducive to enthusiasm – arrives in your inbox with the bold subject line “The Future of the Future,” it indeed seems to indicate that, yes, the future has a future again.
Therefore it feels appropriate to end this year, this decade, with a super-list on the future curated by super-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist (and first presented in his lecture at the “Where do we go from here?” symposium at the Louisiana Museum during the UN climate conference in Copenhagen):
"The future will be….
(List compiled by Hans Ulrich Obrist; via @Andrian Kreye/sueddeutsche.de)
The future will be chrome. Rirkrit Tiravanija
The future will be curved. Olafur Eliasson
The future will be in the name of the future. Anri Sala
The future will be so subjective. Tino Sehgal
The future will be bouclette. Douglas Gordon
The future will be curious. Nico Dockx
The future will be obsolete. Tacita Dean
The future will be asymmetric. Pedro Reyes
The future will be a slap in the face. Cao Fei
The future will be delayed. Loris Greaud
The future does not exist but in snapshots. Philippe Parreno
The future will be tropical. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster
Future? …you must be mistaken Trisha Donnelly
The future will be overgrown and decayed. Simryn Gill
The future will be tense. John Baldessari
A future fuelled by human waste. Matthew Barney
The future is going nowhere without us. Paul Chan
The future is now – the future is it. Doug Aitken
The future is one night, just look up. Tomas Saraceno
The future will be a remake… Didier Fiuza Faustino
The future is what we construct from what we remember of the past – the present is the time of instantaneous revelation. Lawrence Weiner
The future is this place at a different time. Bruce Sterling
The future will be widely reproduced and distributed. Cory Doctorow
The future will be whatever we make it. Jacque Fresco
The future will involve splendour and poverty. Arto Lindsay
The future is uncertain because it will be what we make it. Immanuel Wallerstein
The future is waiting – the future will be self-organized. Raqs Media Collective
Dum Spero/ While I breathe, I hope. Nancy Spero
This is not the future. Jordan Wolfson
The future is a dog/ l’avenir c’est la femme. Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron
On its way; it was here yesterday. Hreinn Friðfinnsson
The future will be an armchair strategist, the future will be like no snow on the broken bridge. Yang Fudong
The future always flies under the radar. Martha Rosler
Suture that future. Peter Doig
‘To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow’ (Shakespeare). Richard Hamilton
The future is overrated. Cerith Wyn Evans
futuro = $B!g(B Hector Zamorra The future is a large pharmacy with a memory deficit. David Askevold
The future will be bamboo. Tay Kheng Soon
The future will be ousss. Koo Jeong-A
The future will be…grains, particles & bits. The future will be…ripples, waves & flow. The future will be…mix, swarms, multitudes. The future will be…the future we deserve but with some surprises, if only some of us take notice. Vito Acconci
In the future…the earth as a weapon… Allora & Calzadilla
The future is our excuse. Joseph Grigely and Amy Vogel
The future will be repeated. Marlene Dumas
Ok, ok I’ll tell you about the future; but I am very busy right now; give me a couple of days more to finish some things and I’ll get back to you. Jimmie Durham
Future is instant. Yung Ho Chang
‘The future is not.’ Zaha Hadid
The future is private. Anton Vidokle
The future will be layered and inconsistent. Liam Gillick
The future is a piano wire in a pussy powering something important. Matthew Ronay
In the future perhaps there will be no past. Daniel Birnbaum
The future was. Julieta Aranda
The future is menace. Carolee Schneemann
The future is a forget-me-not. Molly Nesbit
The future is an knowing exchange of glances. Sarah Morris
The future: Scratching on things I could disavow. Walid Raad
The future is our own wishful thinking. Liu Ding
Le futur est un étoilement. Edouard Glissant
The future is now. Maurizio Cattelan
The future has a silver lining. Thomas Demand
The future is now and here. Yona Friedman
is a fax best to use as facsimile G&G FAX is: THE FUTURE? SEE YOU THERE! AS ARTISTS WE WANT TO HELP TO FORM OUR TOMORROWS. WE HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED IN THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE. ITS GOING TO BE MARVELLOUS. LONG LIVE THE FUTURE WITH LOTS OF LOVE ALWAYS AND ALWAYS. Gilbert & George
The future is without you. Damien Hirst
The future is a season. Pierre Huyghe
The future is a poster. M/M
We have repeated the future out of existence. Tom McCarthy
The future has two large beautiful eyes. Jonas Mekas
less, few tours in my future. Stefano Boeri
Future is what it is. Huang Yong Ping
The future is the very few years we have remaining before all time becomes one time. Grant Morrison
FUTURE MUST BE HERE TODAY. Jan Kaplicky
Future is more freedom. Jia Zhangke
My art is very free, I don’t know what to do in the future. But I am positive. Xu Zhen
The future is inside. Shumon Basar, Markus Miessen, Åbäke
NO FUTURE – PUNK IS NOT DEATH ! Thomas Hirschhorn
The future will be grim if we don’t do something about it. Morgan Fisher
The future is reflexive and coming together. Olafur Eliasson
The future is listening. Shilpa Gupta
The future lies in the unknown. Ann Lislegaard
Nothing stinks, only thinking made it so. Sissel Tolaas
What the future is, you only know next morning. Die Zukunft kann man nur ueber Nacht definieren. Peter Sloterdijk
The future is a disease. Peter Weibel
Upon the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city of Berlin has launched a remarkable “living” online memorial: the Berlin Twitter Wall.
Using the hashtag #fotw, people can share their thoughts on the Fall of the Berlin Wall and tell the world “which walls still have to come down to make our world a better place.” The Web site scrolls messages along a backdrop of the East Side Gallery, a famous stretch of the wall still standing and painted with murals. By clicking "stop" and "play", older tweets are shown. A click on the cameras up on the wall displays a selection of the domino-artwork that fell in a symbolic act on November 9th 2009 at the "Fest der Freiheit" (festival of freedom) at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
I love how the Berlin Twitter Wall intersects history and real-time action, memory and instant gratification, gravitas with graffiti, concrete architecture and virtual realm – and make all of that open and social.