Friday, September 08, 2006

Part 1. Talking to Ourselves

This is Part 1 in a multi-post series on the topics of Participatory Media and Consumer Generated Content.

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It is a defining characteristic of humans to talk to one other, to share, interact, exchange and even "ape" each other's behavior. It has also become natural for humans to do that in an expanded sense through the use of technology. With it we can make ourselves heard beyond shouting distance and share beyond the limits of our physicality. Marshall Mcluhan describes technology as extensions of of our senses and physical being. The telephone is an extension of our voice and ears. The camera an extension of our eyes.

With this in mind, I try to view all communication, regardless of the technology, as "talking to one another". It breaks down useless conversations about what is art and what is commerce and reduces all of it to fundamental human behavior, to examples of storytelling and an overall exchange of messages. It's all part of a cultural conversation. From this perspective the questions become instantly more interesting and get right to the point. For example, why do we tell each other so many stories about people killing other people? (In both the pages of newspapers, and on the cinema screen.)

Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Inspired by Picasso's horror at the Nazi German bombing of Guernica, Spain.

Media and advertising have become a big part of that cultural conversation. In the early days of television, the sponsors made the storytelling possible by paying for its production. It underwrote the costs to provide the programming in exchange for the sponsorship plug.

I think a lot of "creative types" end up in advertising because it's a way to participate in that cultural conversation. Sometimes the work we do is clever and entertaining but doesnt work well. It isn't "good advertising", i.e., communication that moves product out the door after a quick stop at the cash register. Of course, the overt "function" of advertising is to help product manufacturers sell their goods, but what people miss when they overfocus on this functional definition is that the human process of connecting and storytelling is the natural and innate one. Creative isn't a processs that has been added to advertising (selling), it's advertising that, since it's invention, has been added to and "queering" what is the innate desire for people to connect with one another and exhange stories.

Before modern technology, media companies and advertising agencies existed, humans talked, made things, exchanged things of value, shared and connected. They will continue to do so no matter what the outcome of the current upheavals is in the industries affected.

You can harness (and somtimes bully) the creative impulse into helping you achieve your marketing goals but you can't direct and control the unsurpressable urge for humans to connect with one another. The roles filled by large organizations to overome barriers of creation and distribution are no longer critical. The technology to accomplish those tasks is directly in the hands of what used to be "the audience". Corportions are going to have to reinvent relevant roles or create new forms of value. It won't be as easy as piggybacking atop sponsorships, inserting intrusive messages into content or keeping a stranglehold on distribution channels. Those gigs are up. Let the good times roll.

"Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories."
–Laurie Anderson.

Lascaux cave drawing. Southwestern France.13,000 to 25,000 BC.

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On Participatory Media and User Generated Content. A multi-post series.

Part 1. Talking to Ourselves
It's what people do!

Part 2. What Are We Talking About?
Defining the terms and context.

Part 3. Its Gotten Personal
The points of connection are now directly to, and between, individuals.

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