IS THE INTERNET WEARING THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES?

[vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]The internet was always going to make our lives better, right? The internet has been telling us that for years and years. But has it actually improved the quality of our lives, or is it just pretending that it does? I feel like it’s time for me to be the little boy watching the parade and to loudly proclaim its fallibility.

I believe that there are circumstances under which the Internet does actually make lives much better… BUT there are masses of incidences where it makes lives a hell of a lot worse than they used to be.

Let’s start with just a few of the positives where the internet claims it makes our lives better, and it actually does.


Better for conversation

Beginning with the most worthy of them all, disabled people. Because there is no doubt whatsoever that if you’re deaf, the Internet is an absolute Godsend. Nowadays it’s not just email, texts and instant messaging that makes life better for deaf people, but FaceTime, Skype and now Google Duo make life infinitely more joyous for the deaf. They can sign and lip read all they like, and hold conversations in the virtual world just as they would in the real one.

Talking of email and texts and instant messaging, these too are areas where in one sense life is better (they also make it worse, but we’ll come to that later) Sending documents used to be time consuming. Now it’s instant. Obtaining written confirmation of something used to rely on the postal service. Now it doesn’t. It’s immediate and global, and the quality is infinitely better than a fax used to be, Email is great.

And so are texts. In a noisy environment, you can carry out a conversation where you wouldn’t be heard before. You can converse cheaply with people in locations around the world. You can dump your boyfriend without having to see the puppy-dog look in his eyes…

Yes, email, texting, WhatsApp, SnapChat and the rest have made lives better, but the price is very high. They demand time – and time as a commodity is very precious. So precious that the internet claims much of its value in being able to save incredible amounts of it for us. But what it gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. And messaging of all kinds is a massive time burner.


A steal for buying and selling

But before we get onto the negatives, let’s take another major positive. Buying and selling things is so much better on the Internet for everyone. It helps to continue the lifespan of things that might otherwise have been thrown away, thanks to sites like eBay. Online sales mean the market is global for anything a seller wants to put out there, and if you have a niche product, you can still find your market without the effort that you would have had to go to previously. For buyers, it means that finding what you’re looking for, and researching products so that you get exactly what you want and at the best price possible, is a simple search away. And for the handicapped and elderly the Internet makes doing heavy food shopping easy, and having anything delivered to you is perfectly normal and quick and straightforward.

Of course, that implies that the physical activity of going shopping is on the way out. Which means so is the high street. Take the examples of records and books. They’ve been so seriously affected that finding a shop that sells them is almost impossible outside capital cities nowadays. Their replacements? Coffee bars (with internet access) seem to be most popular. But for now, let’s stay with the upside of the internet (it’s just not that easy…)


Food for our brains

Education is another area where the Internet makes studying better. For example, you can access every single course that MIT offer online – for free – anywhere in the world. And even at the most basic level, early learning is quick, simple and accessible online. Plus, you can research subjects easily without having to go to the Library or ask specialists or experts. There is so much that students can do with the Internet. Not only can they communicate with international students, they can gain from others’ knowledge and experiences, participate in chatrooms, share ideas and solutions and learn about the many diverse cultures out there.

There are benefits for parents and teachers, too. The interactive learning that the Internet provides can help students and parents with little or no English skills to learn English. Parents can become more involved in their children’s education by connecting the school with homes.

Teachers can adjust to the different learning styles and in the classroom. They can also set their own pace of teaching. Individual teaching techniques can become more available, proven to be a factor in student achievement. Teachers have the chance to be able to teach at more than one place simultaneously. They may be in a small town but through the Internet, they can be linked to students in more populated areas and vice versa, small-town kids can get a big city education.

So, it looks like online education is the way forward, right? Well, it’s not all roses. Whether the Internet actually makes you smarter is moot… Research suggests that online learning isn’t as ‘sticky’ as offline with a teacher or lecturer. In this sense the Internet is a bit like Joe 90, a popular children’s show from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in the 60’s whereby a small boy absorbed all he needed to battle the baddies thanks to a computer and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses with built-in electrodes. However, once he removed the glasses, all that he had absorbed was lost. In much the same way, things learned through the Internet seem to only remain accessible for a brief period following the ‘lesson’.

And then, of course there’s the massive opportunity to cheat. Whether it’s cutting and pasting tracts of a discourse, or just looking up the answers rather than dredging them from the memory, the ability to bypass learning on the way to exam passes is well documented in online education.


Serious about playing

But enough of the serious stuff. What about the fun stuff? Playing games is definitely made better with the internet. Well, playing electronic games is, anyway. Well, playing interactive electronic and digital games. Well, …OK, let’s return to the serious side.


Valuable for Banking

Banking. Yes. Banking is absolutely more convenient over the internet. Online banking makes checking balances and moving funds really easy – especially with apps dedicated to banking. You can even pay for things with your phone now. So yes, personal banking, definitely better. Except it isn’t personal banking. It’s IMpersonal banking. Have you even MET your bank manager? When was the last time you got cash from a cashier?And then there’s the security aspect. Cyber fraud is on the increase and spamming and phishing is rife. Plus, it encourages spendthrift and profligacy. So banking is… well… OK let’s take something else then…

Look, I think you get the point. The internet isn’t that great – even at things it ought to be great at. So now let’s look at some other areas where it purports to be good, but I believe it actually makes life significantly worse.

 

BUT…


Pants at dating

I could write another entire article about how rubbish the Internet is at dating. It claims to have ‘disrupted’ this industry, but has it made it better? When you’re looking for fish in a pond, it’s all very well when the pond is finite and the stocks are fixed, but when the pond grows every day, and it’s restocked with fish, how do you know you’ve caught the best one for you? If you’re the sort of person who likes choice, you might prefer to plump for Mr or Ms Rightnow, rather than Mr or Ms Right… And it’s not in the interests of dating companies for you to be satisfied with your choice. So long as they get a few that convince you that you’ll actually find Peter or Petra Perfect – which they can then use in marketing – you’ll believe the message. Tinder actually offers you more matches of the same type if you find someone you like. Think about it. If you find the perfect match first time, their entire business model is stuffed.


Flat at music

OK, next. So the Internet says it’s good at music. Bollocks. Tell that to musicians, or the music business in general, or music fanatics – the quality of music over the internet isn’t a patch on vinyl. The musicians get paid a fraction of what they used to, and most of them have to tour and sell T-shirts to make enough to eat. The record companies can’t work out how to stop people stealing their clients’ property. It’s a total mess. Admittedly, loads more people have access to loads more music than they ever have, which encourages a diversity of taste. And Artists can get their music out there much more easily and build up a following without being tied to the record company overlords. But is that good for the world of music? You decide…


Disasterous at entertainment

Ditto, books. There’s nothing quite like the feel of paper in fingers and the weight and smell of a book as you read it in any situation providing sufficient light to see the page. But they’re heavy in bulk which means they eat into your holiday flight weight allowance, and the process of producing them is old fashioned and adds an unnecessary layer or production to the distribution process. See Music, above, for the originator issues, but writing has traditionally been a solitary self-serving process. Writers – with one or two wizard exceptions – never really make that much dosh. And as for theft of intellectual property, don’t get me started on the film industry. Yes, internet-based distribution makes getting the films to the cinemas without the massive trolley full of film reels possible, but it also makes torrents possible. Is that a good enough reason to disrupt an entire industry?


…and as for work…

This is all personal stuff. Leisure pursuits. Entertainment. Fun. Surely the Internet makes the world of work a better place?

Really? OK, so how much time do you spend replying to or simply reading emails that are totally unnecessary – or spam? How many conference calls or internet conference meetings have you spent with the mute button activated, doing other, more interesting things rather than actually concentrating on what the other people in the meeting are saying? How many keyboard discussions have you had over the internet that a simple phone call wouldn’t have cut to a fraction of the time spent – and with none of the misunderstanding? And the myth is that the Internet saves time. The truth is that the Internet is supposed to save the time that actually is best used in consideration and thought. Sorry to disappoint you but thoughtlessness in business is on the rise. And so is disaster recover insurance.

Some businesses don’t just use the Internet, they ARE the Internet. There are entire industries built purely on the Internet, and the wealth that it generates is virtually limitless. But that’s the problem. It’s virtual. The worth of many of these companies isn’t based on how much stuff they own or produce – because they don’t own or produce anything. The world’s biggest accommodation company doesn’t own any rooms. The world’s biggest retailer doesn’t have any shops. The world’s largest taxi company doesn’t own any cars. The world’s biggest media company creates no content. It’s all about the potential of the marketplaces with which they engage and the traffic that they generate. It’s the ultimate in sand-based building foundations and should be viewed with the utmost caution. So, yes, it’s a business. But is it better than the sort of business that has buildings, factories, employees and products? I’m doubtful…


Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

Lastly, I am all too aware of the irony of this being on the internet. But one of the best bits about the internet is that it’s totally unfeeling. It doesn’t care what you say about it. Except that one day it will. When the singularity comes and the Internet becomes sentient. But until that day in 2065 when it’s currently predicted (only fifty years away), we can say what we like.

And even though I have ranted and railed against the Internet in this piece, I do love it. It’s now part of my life and I have to accept it. It’s completely disrupted my industry (advertising) to the point where I actually think it’s gone a bit too far and become the b-all and end-all of what marketing directors think about. And yet, I still use it, like you do. I still can’t get by without it, like you can’t. And I still would be devastated if it ever vanished. Like you would.

The Internet is here to stay, of course, but please, please, please, can we see it for what it is. A fabulous, shiny multi-tool, but not always the best tool, and especially not the ONLY tool in the box.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”10″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1489653918484-5890c8976310b8875c0a86159c1f16db-4″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]When my dad died, he left me a box of pictures. The ones that were of him, of course I could pretty much identify. But the other people in those pictures were strangers to me, and I didn’t know or understand the context in which they were taken.

This is unlikely ever to happen again. Not because I only had one dad (which I did) but because from the birth of the Internet and specifically social media, your children, great grandchildren, and great great great great grandkids and all your relatives down to the lowest branches of your family tree will ALL be able to see exactly what sort of life you lived; where you went for your holidays; what you enjoyed eating; what music you liked; how you looked when you were at various stages of your life.

We are the first generation of immortals.

Our footprints aren’t in sand, they’re in carbon-reinforced digital concrete. They’ll be there long after our alien overlords or the cockroaches take over the world. You are now part of history.

And so is the work you do. That’s worth bearing in mind when you’re creative. When I first started in advertising, the theory was that today’s ad is tomorrow’s chip paper. It was transient and quickly forgotten. Nowadays, anything you do will be there forever.

It’s going to make creativity harder, though. You won’t be able to flip through your memory to see if something you think of has been done before. Google (or Alphabet or whatever) will do that for you. And your business rivals will be really quick to point it out. The currency of true creativity is going to go through the roof. So much of what I see and hear right now is derivative, crass or just plain boring. And even the dross is going to hang around like a very bad smell at a very overcrowded party. But the truly creative, that which should be exemplified and taught, will in a just world rise above the crud and be used to spur creativity ever forward.

For the demi-creative, thankfully, the likelihood is that there will be new media invented to allow different types of pseudo-creativity – but that’s going to be in the execution rather than in the core idea. Take a look at M&C Saachi’s latest piece for Investment company SPP. That’s an old idea taken to new heights using current technology, but the essence of it is as old as the hills. What you do now will make a difference to your future (the added spin being the inclusiveness of the ‘your’). I actually think that it’s a brilliant execution, but maybe the core idea could have been more original?

So think hard before you present your next idea to your internal team or to your client. Will your children be proud of that? Or your descendants? Because they’ll all be able to see what you did when you did it. And if you’re thinking, ‘Well, that’ll do the job’ then you should rip it up and start again (Oh, God… my descendants will think that I was into 80’s Scottish pop).

What we create today will be there in perpetuity. Make sure it’s the best you’ve got.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”10″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1489653918587-8427252391a4d1a42fc40dccb4ab3112-1″][/vc_column][/vc_row]