Technology and Our Lives

December 04, 2011

Despite any discernible ability, I have a great affinity for photography. Yet, before smartphones, I never carried a camera. Even after I got rid of the 35mm for a digital, I still never really brought it with me. Of course now, I always have a camera. And, even more than with regular digital cameras, I have seemingly unlimited resources to take pictures.

How we regard and manage photos has greatly changed in the last decade. At one point, we had 20-30 pictures per roll. And that was it. If you didn't take a good picture, you didn't find out until after you paid to develop it. If you used up all your pictures? No more pictures for the rest of the day. Today, you can delete bad pictures immediately. Need more space? Clear out the so-so pictures to make more room. Better yet, change the size/quality of the photos to allow for even more picture snapping. If you have a smartphone, your ability to load pictures to the cloud further increases your capacity for shutterbugging.

The point is that technology changes the way we interact with each other and approach our lives. From my college days, there are only a handful of pictures, usually taken during big events or special occasions. Today's college kids take several pictures a day. We are instantly nostalgic for not what happened, but what is happening. Perhaps the most visible difference is with children. Flipping through the photo albums at my parents' house, there are probably several hundred pictures of me through the years. Flipping through the online photo album my sister has for my one-year-old nephew, I find 2,061 pictures. For better or worse, we no longer have to be discriminating about what is and what isn't worthy of a picture. This, of course, changes the way we interact with our memories. It also changes the way we interact with the present.

This is the unseen hand of technology. Marshall McLuhan provided extensive documentation of this process in his writings about how "digital man" radically changed societal structures. In one example from his 1964 book, "Understanding Media: Extensions of Man," he explains how the telephone changed power structures. The phone allowed for the circumvention of middle men and allowed quick, direct access to anyone in a company or hierarchy. The need to relay information vanished.

You don't have to go all the way back to the invention of the telephone to see the changes in how we view life and technology. Think about the leap from landline phones to mobile phones. In the age of landlines, if you called someone and they didn't answer, the natural conclusion was, "He/She isn't home." With cell phones, if someone doesn't answer, the thought process is much different from worry--"I hope he/she is OK" to anger "Why is he/she ignoring me?" This is but a small example of how technology changes our world. Or, as McLuhan would say, "The medium is the message."

Compare that today to how social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus and the like change the power structure, and we see many of the same shifts.

Platforms like Twitter and Google Plus open the CEO's door to everyone--both inside and outside of the company. Take the recent Boloco example. A consumer makes an issue public immediately. The CEO himself is made aware of it--even before employees at the actual store. He addresses it and helps fix it the issue in no time. It is a direct remedy to a consumer problem from the top. Of course, the instant communicationcuts both ways, if you aren't careful.

Like with superheroes, with great power comes great responsibility. Social media platforms can undermine your overall communications strategy faster than they can elevate them. It isn't just your CEO's ill-advised, off-the-cuff comment or your intern having a meltdown that gets you in hot water. It is an army of employees, directly or indirectly linked with your company, posting company information that isn't ready for prime time. Sometimes that information was never intended for public consumption in the first place.

I am the first to say social media is not a magic bullet for marketing. But, pretending it doesn't matter is just as dangerous as placing too much emphasis on it. Real-time communication changes the expectations of societal interactions. When the medium is the message, whether you engage or not, you are still sending a message. But what that message is, is up to you.

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Jeff Francis is a marketing geek who would never refer to himself as a guru. He is that weird sort who enjoys watching commercials and analyzing communication strategies. He is also available for hire and would love to hear from you. So, head on over to the contact page and get in touch.

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