Content Control and the Rise of the Insular Man

I've spent more than my fair share of time musing about marketing, advertising, media, and the future of the consumptive man (I use man here in the classical sense of 'human').

Before going on, I just want to point out that 100 years ago, consumption was first and foremost a progressive wasting away of the body especially from pulmonary tuberculosis. Consumption was something people used to die from; now it is what we are encouraged to do in the wake of a terrorist attack or to generally improve our humors.

Anyway, the internet, DVRs (picking mine up next week!), and the modern media landscape I once heard aptly termed "an embarrassment of niches" by Andrew Heyward, the president of CBS News, has done much to leave us in a strange and almost schizophrenic altered state. As media consumers we often times find ourselves caught between - or vacillating between -- two extreme states: during much of the day we live swamped by anxiety and the pressures borne of work and obligations only to face the angst of too many choices in media, or we are numbed by those same inundating choices into a passive ennui.



The modern media pundit has taken on the task of trying to sooth our spirits, and slakes our thirst for sense and calm by using language that leads us to believe that a preponderance of choice is really just control of the content that inundates us.

Is the future of marketing control of content? Do the internet, DVRs, and the abundance of content choices really leave us in a state of more control than media consumers once were?

I would argue no.

At the heart of the technologies which govern media today is a desire to actually limit our choices. Or, perhaps more accurately, the technology helps manage the options available being subject to choice, and then suggesting choice to us. DVRs are great why? They can save programming for you and chose programming you might be interested in because you don't have time to make the decision yourself. The internet can be used to categorize content so that you don't have to choose the content you'd like to engage. Media technologies allow us to do what Robert Reich in his book, The Future of Success calls "outsourcing" choice. The technology we have in media lets us "hire experts" to choose for us.

Is personalization on the web really more control, or a way to relinquish it?

Even the programming available that is most popular with media consumers is really about making choices for you. Queer Eye For the Straight Guy? Someone else comes in and makes choices about what some slob should do to gussy up his life. Trading Spaces? A show about people who can't decide what they really want to do with their house. Todd TV? The guy actually signed a contract with Fox to let the viewing public vote on what choices he should make to change his life, from quitting his job to dating women.

The future of marketing is not going to be about control of media and content, it is about surrendering control. It is putting that I.V. into the vein and hoping the doctor has put the stuff we like into the bag. The only thing we have control over is the dosage of the drug.

Marketing is going to be about figuring out how to make your product or service the drug of choice, and the best way to do that is to simply flow right in.

All sentient beings long for independence and control, even if it is illusory. But this seems to be true only up to a point.

With every internal whim and aberration finding external address and reinforcement, we are coming full-circle to wanting to be told what to watch, what to read, and what to buy.

With so much "control" in our hands, particularly in respect to the internet, we become de facto progenitors of our own content, creating a solipsistic world that ultimately insulates us from one another and leaving one sure only of their own existence and little more.

This will retard and ultimately negate desires borne of anything else outside of desire already held within the self.

Material lusts are often times the result of what we see 'in-the-world;' by being the source of our own content, we are ultimately the source of our own wants. This means that our interests only feed themselves and there is no possibility for the outside world to infiltrate and expose us to things we might like that we don't know we like. Advertising will end up being a carriage for messages about those things we are already familiar. Forget what this means for us as a culture; just think about what it ultimately means for marketing.

Advertising can't very easily just walk away from a practice of introducing things we don't know about, yet, to us. There'd be no more "product introductions," for crying out loud!

True control and independence logically concludes with the self being the source of his or her own content, where nothing infiltrates from the outside world, including competitive material desires (and other points of view, and different people, and new ideas, and.).

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