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Archive for June 18th, 2010

Forget Slick: Reputation, Transparency, and Guts

Posted by Bob Warfield on June 18, 2010

It’s been a little while since I wrote about a Seth Godin post.  ‘Bout time.  Godin is a must-read for me, and all of his posts are pithy, relevant, and urgent to understand.

Today’s subject is a brief post entitled simply, “Slick.”

We all crave slick.  In media, it is a signalling device for success and being a part of the “in” crowd.  But it doesn’t have quite the power it once did.  To paraphrase Huey Lewis, sometimes Slick is Bad, and Amateur is Good.  I think Blair Witch Hunt hit me with that realization hardest, when it came out.  The trouble is that we’ve been fooled too many times by Slick, and its gotten too easy to appear Slick when the reality is different.  We’ve come to mistrust Slick in some ways, and to be jaded towards it in others.  What else is new?  Marketing has always been about doing something different to get attention. 

It’s interesting to consider the ramifications of Slick and Marketing in the 2.0 era of Social.  I had another discussion earlier this morning when someone brought to my attention Jaron Lanier’s book, You Are Not a Gadget.  Lanier has been a visionary for some time and made his bones around Virtual Reality.  Check this sample of his thoughts about Web 2.0:

Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks, and lightweight mashups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned interpersonal interaction. Communication is now often experienced as a superhuman phenomenon that towers above individuals. A new generation has come of age with reduced expectation of what a person can be, and who each person might become.

If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money.  If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty.  If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless.

The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract.  The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind.  Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion.  Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.

He’s definitely angry, but to my ear it doesn’t resonate as righteous anger but as bitter anger, tinged with envy.  There’s too little content there to judge (Michael Coté’s review is more complimentary and he’s read the whole book), but at the very least, Lanier’s passages don’t strike me as reflecting a keen understanding of people.  Like many musicians, journalists, and artists, he reflects an attitude that such work is so valuable it must be compensated and nobody dares think otherwise.  I knew a fantastic jazz pianist once who absolutely would not ever let anyone hear him play, even friends, unless he was at a gig he was being paid for.  Somehow, he thought it demeaned his art and made him less a professional.  Perhaps he only wanted to be heard at his “Slickest”.  I never figured it out.

That’s a pity.  What Lanier and his like-minded peers miss is that not everyone is an artist.  Some are happy just to be heard.  Moreover, he must have forgotten that not every artist was always discovered.  At some point they wanted to be heard too.  The tone of these folks puts them in the odd company of people like Rupert Murdoch, which makes no sense to me.

Getting back to Seth Godin, he explains eloquently why this Dystopian exploitation of art that Lanier fears is not such a worry.  Forget Slick.  Tell it from the heart.  Worry about your Reputation.  Be Transparent.  It will take some Guts, but the web gives you a place to stand where you can move the world.

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