Digital Is NOT Making Us Smarter

The new paradigm I would like to propose is that digital “everything” is making us more accountable and transparent -- but not smarter. Let me explain.

The recent onslaught of revelations and scandals clearly shows how digital is making everyone’s actions more transparent, and that nothing can be hidden. Skeletons that were in closets for a very long time, even skeletons that were in there well before the digital age, are now exposed and digitally amplified in such a way that they reach everyone immediately, the minute they come out. CNN, MSNBC, Fox, but also TMZ or Tech Crunch, all breathlessly capture, annotate and distribute “stuff” we learn about first through social digital.

The reach is almost immediate, and is faster than ever, especially if it's “juicy.” Sex and scandal sells (as it always has). Celebrities can’t hide secrets. The government can’t hide secrets (even its most secret of secrets are apparently hacked already). Everything is hackable. Anything you are trying to keep to yourself is open and will be found.



This level of transparency sounds, in principle, like a good idea. It’s the ultimate form of democracy, right? The problem of course is that what gets shared and distributed as news, information, fact or issue, gets heavily colored or filtered by the distributors -- or even manipulated or falsified. Fake news is real, just not in the way that Roy Moore calls out the media.

Fake news is the manipulated and filtered news different audiences receive. The ultimate transparency is leading to ultimate disinformation. There is no single source of truth, only your perceived source of truth.

This is making us stupider, not smarter. Information is overshared, but we are under-informed.

This goes for marketing as well. A few years ago, I discussed “Maarten’s Law Of Marketing Insights”: With each increase of data, the level of confusion for marketers rises an equal amount. This is kind of like Moore’s Law: The more data points you have, the more confused you will be.

And data bias and data filter happen as much as news bias and news coloring. Marketers have no shortage of data, but a massive shortage of insight. It is getting harder and harder for CMOs to answer the question “Is my marketing approach working?”  

And that is terrible.

I know there will be those who will say their technology or approach has yielded great results, and some might even claim to have figured out the holy grail. But the truth is, none of the major marketing-driven companies has it figured out.

How can digital advertising and activation budgets grow as fast as they do, when at the same time P&G can cut a juicy piece of its digital investment and not see any positive or negative impact? How can mobile, AI and VR be such a hot topic, when we also claim we do not know how (if?) any of these platforms make a material contribution to business results?

So, digital is making our actions transparent. Celebrity scandals, presidential tweets, brand blunders (Papa John’s, anyone?) get shared and amplified and discussed on an unprecedented global scale. But transparency is not making us wiser. It leaves us breathless and jittery. And we forget “what does it mean?” because we don't have time for that question anymore.

2 comments about "Digital Is NOT Making Us Smarter".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 18, 2017 at 4:38 p.m.

    Very true, Maarten. It's sort of like the endless refrain about "data" being used for just about everything and, by implication, instead of judgement based on being savvy as well as the context and lessons of past experience. Give us too much "data", especially rdundent data, we stop looking at it as it doesn't make us smarter, it merely spins our wheels.

  2. Stewart Farr from Pub, November 18, 2017 at 9 p.m.

    Data always hurts as much as it helped. This is stats 101 rearing its ugly head to everyone.
    Correlation never meant Causation. 

    Just like any good magician we shouldn't count the shocked faces to show a captive audience. So we shouldn't count logs or clicks or imps as addributution. 
    Our digital slaves are only locked in, via their minds and until we figure out how to IoT that.....we will never have that data as fact. 
    Anyone who tells your otherwise is selling digital snake oil. 

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