Back in the summer (can you remember the summer?), I made time to read Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here and realised our sins will save us.
Morozov is peeved about a lot of stuff, specifically innovation for the sake of it and, broadly, the internet at large. This book is a harsh critique of "solutionism", the idea that we now have the potential to solve most of society’s ills through clever, digitally designed solutions.
The current craze for wearable tech, including the Quantified Self initiatives, comes under scrutiny.
Morozov describes the four factors behind the rise of self-tracking: small sensors; their ubiquity in smartphones; social media’s normalising of sharing; and cloud computing that allows you to offload data and merge it with other people’s to generate norms and targets. The urge to improve, normally given as a reason for self-tracking, doesn’t wash. Morozov says: "Self-tracking – especially when done in public – is often just a by-product of attempts to show off."
Eve would have found a way to the apple, even in a smart building, and Adam would have followed her
The author is gloomy about solutionism. He thinks it will limit mankind. We will have no moral framework, as the solutionists will limit our choices to the good ones. He quotes the scientist Ursula Franklin:
"Imagine what would have happened if Adam and Eve had not lived in a garden but in a smart building.
The divine designer would probably have arranged it so that they never saw apples." Not a good thing. No apples, no sin, no free will.
Morozov is overly pessimistic and underestimates human inventiveness. Only the other day, I unintentionally "gamed" a website. Signing up for a gym online, I couldn’t find the answer to a question, so I came out of the payment page twice to look for an answer. By the time I went to pay for the third time, the website had dropped the joining fee. It won’t be long before everyone catches on to this kind of thing and exploits it.
I believe that Eve would have found a way to the apple, even in a smart building, and Adam would have followed her. I back the human capacity for breaking the rules over internet solutionism. So planners need to stay alert. We might think we’re the experts but, a decade ago, we knew more about the purchase journey than we do now. There was a purchase funnel for most categories and we knew how to shove people down it. Now that consumers have a powerful computer in their pocket, the funnel has become a loop (think Spaghetti Junction) and, just as we set new rules for a category, consumers break them.
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom