Hype vs. Boogeymen vs. Reality

Yesterday I found myself drawn into a discussion I may have been wiser to avoid over on gapingvoid. I work as a web developer at an advertising agency, so I have a particular interest in how technology changes the advertising game, and until this discussion, I was watching what Hugh McLeod is doing from a distance and finding it interesting. But then he pointed to someone criticizing the whole thing, and the criticisms made some sense.

But I wouldn't likely have spent much time thinking about it if Hugh hadn't launched into the now cliché diatribe about how large organization X is just attacking the little guy because it knows technology is empowering the little guy and larger organization X is doomed. In this case, large organization X seemed obviously irrelevant to the conversation.

So I pointed this out, as did others, but Hugh didn't make any movement away from the ridiculousness, saying I'm being paid to piss Big Money off. I think this is just a few steps away from saying "if you don't like my business plan, the terrorists have already won." It's just dragging out a boogeyman to drum up support. So I lost some respect for Hugh there.

Tom Coates was involved in this conversation too, and writes:

I'm totally fed up of people standing up and waving a flag for the death of institutions based on sketchy information and a vague belief in the rightness of their cause - and I'm also slightly sick of more moderate voices being drowned out under the revolutionary fervour of people fresh with their first wave of excitement about user-generated content on the web.

Me too. But I'm not sure what to do about it, nor even how to avoid participating in the cycle myself. A few weeks ago I got involved in one of these discussions and found myself on both sides in different contexts. A friend of mine who is not particularly interested in technology started an email discussion about how she doesn't think new technology like Tivo is really improving anything. I don't use Tivo, but I pointed out how I think Tivo is part of a larger trend of empowering the audience to participate more and passively consume less, which I think leads to more niche marketing.

She was pointing out everything wrong with technology, so I started pointing out everything great about technology. The same day, Kathy Sierra wrote a post about how marketing is being improved by technology and I found myself taking the exact opposite position, pointing out that marketing remains a dangerous game even online. So in the same day I took opposing positions on the same issue, neither of which really represented my opinion.

If someone had asked me what I think about technology and marketing, I would have given an answer somewhere in between. I think technology is slightly altering the marketing game in ways which could be exploited to make large positive changes, but like any other tool, the responsibility lies with the users to make something positive happen.

But even something so neutral as this gets read as complete disagreement by both sides. Disagreement pushes opinions away from each other and we end up with extremes. I think I'm as tired as Tom of the drowning of moderate voices, but I don't see much floating in this sea of all-or-nothing discussions.

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