Monday, January 14, 2013

14 of 95: Spectacular guilt, and why it could use a remix

14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

[Part 13]

Have you had a bad day? Are you tired of having bad days? Are you thinking that there might be more to life? Now there is! The ultra mega home appliance 2000 is and as everything you need for a better life! Forget bad days, bad hair and dusty corners - the ultra mega homa appliance 2000 takes care of it all! And if you call within the next fifteen minutes, you get the Mitzu knife for free! That's right, free! So don't hesitate - call now!

If you are even remotely contemporary, then you are more likely to think about various creative uses of knives than anything else.

And, if you are in the habit of talking back at the screen, you might be saying such things as "you don't know shit about bad days, don't tell me what I need and don't need".

Somewhere around here, the thought that the words "successful marketing strategy" are non-applicable to this situation might be formulating itself. Mitzu knife or no Mitzu knife - just telling people that something is a good thing is not enough anymore. Something has changed.

When reading things of my own writing, I sometimes invoke the voices of teachers past. That is, asking myself what these teachers would say about the writing in question. One of them has been particularly useful, due to only having one method of critique: asking why I've wasted his time, and why the implicit payoff from the beginning failed to materialize in the middle or the end. "Don't start something good without finishing it", he'd say, handing back the writing with a very unmissable notation about the good thing that should have been but weren't.

And a smile. Just to put courage into the encouragement.

So. Harking back to #5, we saw the words spectacle, normalization and alienation. And then we didn't see much more of them. Which is a shame - they are good words, better than Mitzu knives. But they are only good as long as they are used, and thus it is time to use them.

Companies traditionally operate within the spectacle. Especially the bigger ones, where communication has to be scaled up to literally inhuman sizes; the marketing strategists will tell you all about how important it is to create an image (a literal image, as it were) of the company that people can relate to. Relating to the company is out of the question - there's not enough manpower for that, and the manpower on hand is busy doing internal stuff - but relating to the image. That can be done. That can even be done within the margins of the budget, which is all that matters.

Ergo, ultra mega home appliance 2000. The very image of the image.

I can't imagine what it must be like to be them. Finding out that a whole generation of kids turned out to be iconoclasts, all of them, not giving too much of a care about the imaginings of marketing. Worrying about what the kid hackers will do with the thing itself once they get their hands on them - which they will, being kids and hackers.

Spectacular indeed.

If you will excuse another bad pun, these kids are a new normal. Or, rather, they've normalized to a new set of standards. The new game is that there are two ways to go about things: you can do them yourself, or you can pay someone else to do it faster. The choice is between doing and paying, and both are legitimate options: sometimes, you just need something done fast, and at other times you need those experience points.

The big example of this is computer games. It is an easy thing to get a hold of just about any computer game for free these days, but you are more than likely to have to put in some extre effort in the getting. It begins with finding a torrent with decent speed, and continues with the application of cracks, installation of patches, digging through settings, not being able to start the game, troubleshooting, finding that error, fixing it, trying again, seeing that it still doesn't work, fixing another error, slowly realizing that the solution might be to learn to read code language -

It turns out that you on average are better off just buying the game, experience wise.

Normalization comes into this picture once we take a step back and realize that both options are equally valid. You don't have to feel bad for not wanting to bother with getting a particularly badly written game to work - or for getting it to work. The logic of normalization doesn't apply at this level. It operates somewhere else.

I.e. you cannot guilt trip these people into buying things. Or, more generally, appeal to their self image when trying to sell them things - their relation to things/tools doesn't work that way. When you create your own tools, you are just that much less likely to take someone else's word for it. And you don't necessarily feel bad for not having a particular tool - the hacker ethos has a special love for those who manage to get things done with the least user friendly tools imaginable.

Que the guile theme.

This is a rather backwards way of applying the notion of normalization. But I do believe you see where I'm going with this.

To return to the image we began this tirade with: the consumer who passively accepts imaged objects into their lives is a thing of the past. The end-user turns into a remixer, who happily nulls warranties, copyrights and user guides in order to turn the word "alienation" on its head.

From passive to active; from alienated to community-driven point of experience. As if the sage advice to always follow up on the good starting conditions is heeded on a larger scale than my reflexive writing/thinking -

I'll see you again tomorrow for part fifteen.

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