The answer is blowing in the wind

Two posts that are well worth your time.

Kevin Kelly talks about what many people are calling the new ‘must-go-to’ event for people in the industry, CES in Las Vegas. He says that as much as we may feel a sort of despair on seeing row upon row of shiny gadgets, and be overwhelmed by continuous desire for the next best thing ever, it is worth it, because it is the price we pay for progress. He says:

But I celebrate the never-ending discontentment that the technium brings. Most of what we like about being human is invented. We are different from our animal ancestors in that we are not content to merely survive, but have been incredibly busy making up new itches which we have to scratch, digging extra holes that we have to fill, creating new desires we’ve never had before.

In other words, it is OK to feel this constant gnawing discontent inside, because it is indicative of technological progress. I’m going to try and remember that every time I have that feeling – and I have it a lot.

The second piece is by Jan Chipchase – a very detailed essay that he wrote in response to a question from an audience member at the Pop!Tech conference recently. As Executive Creative Director of Global Insights with Frog Design, he was asked what it was like ‘pillaging the intellect of people around the world for commercial gain’, and how he slept at night as ‘the corporations you work for pump their worthless products into the world’. To me, Mr, Chipchase is an excellent anthropologist, immersing himself in communities across the world from Africa to Japan, and the fact that he is asked questions like these at once baffles me and makes me feel less guilty, because the subject is something I have had fleeting conversations about with multiple people who work in the advertising industry. Is working in advertising and marketing akin to sleeping with the devil?

It is a complicated question and one that I am not going to answer in detail right now. Suffice to say that by and large the majority of companies in the world are profit-motivated. They are not going to disappear in an instant – let’s be practical. But things are changing. For every pointless Kingsmill Confessions, there are agencies and brands that do good, and more arise every month that goes by. These are positive signs. I spoke about Patagonia recently. There are also organisations like Open Ideo, Good’s Maker programme, the 50/50 project, the Change for 20 project by Cleveland-based agency Point to Point, Pepsi Refresh,  Sidekick School by Sidekick Studios in the UK, the Youth4Youth project for Pencils of Promise by LBi agency Mr.Youth in the US and many, many more. Years ago, in India, Unilever had Project Shakti and ITC had the eChoupal project. (I’m not sure how current those last two projects are – my knowledge of them is very outdated as I first came upon them in 2004 or so).

Chipchase says:

The real design imperialism comes from those people who assume that the world’s poor are not worthy of the attention.

He’s talking from a product design perspective. From a marketing perspective, I’m not saying that typical advertising benefits the poor – most products are not designed for the poor, so neither will the advertising that is related to them. But, as I said, things are changing – and people’s attention is certainly being drawn to less privileged communities even in the creative industries. Most of the positive examples I just quoted have come up in the last few years – indicative of a clear change in the wind. May it blow long and hard.

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