Trust after the mass-age
Here we are at the end of another year. Another year as the old media fades into a chaos, no, a babble of freak-show fear mongering. Well, here in America at least. The same seems true in the UK. A total mess.
It has been a year since I finished After the Mass-Age and I would change a few things. What I would not change is the basic thesis. Trust is destroyed as media transforms from an unregulated transitional time into a new media future. In this year, we have seen Facebook hit an ethical wall and advertisers support its algorithm. The tension between the goal of advertising and role of media has never been so marked. It has always been there. Prurience, conspiracy and other forms of bullshit have always peppered the American media landscape.
While walking through the checkout at Target (yes, I still shop at retail occasionally) I read a headline that claimed Robert Kennedy stole JFK’s brain. I mean, in Target! Hillary Clinton’s pizza shop-based pedophile ring sits out there in the outer rim of the Galaxy of Credibility, somewhere between Breitbart and Info Wars but at the check out in Target? It was a sobering reminder that the media has been dumb for a long time. After the mass-age we have dumbing media released into the wild to prey on suspecting minds of all ages and at all times. There is something about the graphic design of National Enquirer that lets you know it’s FAKE. Or maybe we have learned that a forward slanting sans serif typeface connotes an addiction to attention rather than a commitment to truth. What is the equivalent in the virtual and digital worlds?
I think we need to incorporate ethics into our everyday work life.
Many brands have a set of values to which they adhere. This feels woolly and noncommittal to me. Especially after the corporate copywriters have passed them through legal. Quite often it is greenwashing. Exxon Mobil is a dark master at this. They are committed to mitigating the “risks of climate change” not climate change, for example. A well-crafted and meaningful set of ethics can be monitored and effectively policed. This is probably the way to go. Then the corrupt word technicians of Exxon Mobil would be revealed. There are no decent ethics in presenting an oil business as a partner in mitigating the risks of climate change.
Trust is in short supply and those who enable trust by being trustworthy are in high demand.
There are too many of us in the creative professions to be ignored. We manage the relationship between the economy and culture. We also present politics to the body politic. If all the best talent adhered to a simple set of ethics, grounded in earning trust, then the liars and fakers would be marginalized. Fact checking and provenance become critical when stories determine culture.
Oh, and this goes also to media folks who are happy to press their algorithms into action and disperse advertisers’ messages to all the click-bating nonsense out there. Please create a black list. It’s called freedom of speech. You are free to not spend your money in media you find distasteful.
Brands are beautiful things. They become the fulcrum of corporate and political culture. I love working in this field. As I watch technologists reduce the meaning of life with a data center rather than a human heart, I am saddened. But then I am reminded that we have been through this before and as the creative community awakens to the need for moral leadership, as well as an engineered solution, we will find the right balance between science and art, data and meaning, machines and people.
That’s the transition we are going through after the mass-age.