Friday, March 2, 2012

Everything stays the same.

Years ago, right about the time the internet was taking off, I picked up David McCullough's great book "The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal."

Around this time, I also went to Ogilvy to work on IBM.

I had never worked on a technology account before and I was, frankly, having a hard time figuring out what all these systems, machines and programs and processes actually did--why they were important to you and me and businesses large and small.

It just so happens that Lou Gerstner made a rare appearance at the agency and addressed a few score of us. He talked about speed. Closeness--both physical and spiritual--businesses, trade, people and countries without boundaries. All this would be a result of the technology he was selling.

The promise was nearly identical, according to McCullough, to the promise nearly a century earlier of the Panama Canal.

Those characteristics, a boundaryless world, a world where people are closer, where communication is easier, where speed reigns, are behind many great technological advances. In fact, the promulgators of the Canal prophesied that world peace would be a result of its construction. Just as the progenitors of our e-communications declare that democracy will be the result of Twitter.

I'm sure when the first humans lashed the first sail to the first mast and traveled at a speed never before attained, their enthusiasms gently foreshadowed the promises made by these later, more sophisticated, technologies.

Today, we have a raft of new technologies that are supposed to be fundamentally changing the way we do everything from chat, to shop, to share, to--practically--take a shit.

Accordingly, we have rafts of people proclaiming that exalting the wonders that will result from these technologies. Remember, Twitter was the engine that toppled dictatorships in the Arab world.

Here's where I fall out of bed with the technologists--where I have lost my app-etite.

Twitter didn't bring down Hosni Mubarak any more than the Panama Canal brought peace to a world that seems bent on destroying itself. What ignited the serial toppling in greater Arabia was Anger, not Twitter. Anger was the message. Twitter was the delivery.

I'm not saying that technology isn't important and that new channels have no importance. However, they are means to communication--not communication in and of itself.

The message, not the means, is what matters.


Kirkistan said...

And yet, the anger did not have a profitable channel in the past. Giving a voice to so many has multiplied the dictator-toppling power of well-deserved anger.

dave trott said...

George, I think a lot of people use McLuhan's "The Medium Is The Message" to justify technology being the whole story.
However, even for MacLuhan, this wasn't true.
This is from MacLuhan's estate:
"Why is the title of the book The Medium is the Massage and not The Medium is the Message?
Actually, the title was a mistake. When the book came back from the typesetter's, it had on the cover 'Massage' as it still does.
The title was supposed to have read The Medium is the Message but the typesetter had made an error.
When McLuhan saw the typo he exclaimed, 'Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!'
Now there are possible four readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: Message and Mess Age, Massage and Mass Age."

geo said...

Kirkistan, I think Anger always has had a viable channel. Over-throwing governments ain't new.

geo said...

Thanks, Dave. That's priceless. You are a man of great resources.

dave trott said...

Like you George, I read a lot.