Branding

In the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange the youth speak an argot influenced by subliminal Soviet propaganda. So the Russian “khorosho” (good) becomes “horrorshow.” Alex, the young leader of the criminal gang, praises his mate Dim as a “horrorshow filthy fighter.” There was a time when everyone was worried about the subliminal effects of advertising. And with good reason—look around you, you can see that everything today is branded.

I once used the descriptor “thermal underwear” in a high school classroom. The kids looked at me in dismay: what was that? When I said, “you know, like Under Armour.” They immediately understood but then wanted to know why I didn’t just say that in the first place. I tried to explain about names and brand names, nouns and proper nouns, but they couldn’t hear me. They live in a thoroughly branded world. I used to ask them if Aeropostale or Tommy Hilfiger paid them for the privilege of advertising on their bodies. They would look at me in bewilderment.

Walk down the street and look at the t-shirts. How many of them have brands emblazoned on them? Hell, look in your closet. We can hardly buy certain clothes today without some kind of corporate identifier on them: ball teams, product lines, tourist destinations, you name it. Entire generations of kids have been raised in a world that doesn’t drive cars so much, rather it’s Civics or Tacomas or somesuch. They don’t eat breakfast, they have a Frappuccino and a Pop-tart. They don’t buy shoes or boots they get Nikes or Doc Martens.

I don’t know anyone who says “social media” or “internet search.” We Facebook and Google. The corporate overlords who fund our advertising experts have completely penetrated our intellectual sphere and we see the world as they wish us to. We frame our questions on their terms. Look at all this Zuckerberg kerfuffle. His view of privacy is somewhere else. It has nothing to do with our standard notions of what is private and what is public, what is sacred and what is sell-able. Users don’t care about privacy anymore. Well, we have angry Senators and whatnot, but those guys, like most politicians, represent outmoded viewpoints.

Today’s consumer is happy to have targeted ads. Why waste time on ones that don’t apply? The wonderful SF writer Philip K. Dick postulated the emergence of what he called “homeopapes” which were newspapers that printed out on demand and were customized to the interests and ideology of the reader. Sounds like newsfeeds to me. We all know the big issue with Facebook is not privacy, but the echo-chamber effect. We filter out stuff we don’t want to see and we reinforce our own biases with stuff we already know and already believe in. I like Facebook for the social aspect, I can keep in touch with lots of people easily. I don’t do anything serious, other than publish my blog posts, and I generally weed out anything that takes more than about a thirty seconds to consume. If I want deep intellectual stuff or serious discussions of politics, philosophy, or public policy I choose other forums.

I don’t care what Facebook does with my data. If this free service becomes burdensome, I’ll quit. What happened is that Mark Zuckerberg and his team of ultra-nerds got punked. By the Russians, for sure, and perhaps by competitors as well. This is the cutthroat reality of international capitalism. Mr. Z had to go to Washington and hold a few hands, but mostly he had to reassure his shareholders. Facebook, I’ve no doubt, wants to keep making money, so they’ll get some better nerds and beef up their security and whatever else needs beefing up and try to fend off the next round of attacks.

When I say I don’t care about my data I don’t mean I don’t care about security. Obviously I don’t want anyone hacking into my Visa, PayPal, or my Ameritrade accounts. And I have a feeling that outfits like Visa, PayPal, and Ameritrade are eager to keep my business and eager to keep making money off me, so they will make a big effort to make me feel secure. I can live with that, the risks are worth the convenience of things like credit cards, on-line payment services, and electronic investing.

But what Facebook wants to do with my skiing pictures or whatnot hardly matters. If I don’t want to share something, I won’t. I don’t want to trivialize privacy concerns, I’m just thinking that perhaps we need a new definition of privacy. TV invaded our homes and re-wired our brains decades ago. People go on TV and say and do things that make me cringe, but that doesn’t stop them. And there are more every day to take their places. We say and do things on-line that are even more outrageous and increasingly disconnected from our corporate selves, and it seems there is an endless supply of us ready to bare all, literally and figuratively.

Maybe the data saturation will become so massive that any particular little bit will be irrelevant. You like an SS-clad dominatrix whipping you after work? So what. Get in line. Everyone who works at this place has some bizarre hobby. We don’t care, just make the company money when you are here. That’s what I anticipate. We’ll all have our quirks and oddities out there and we’ll all stop caring. The alternative is a neo-tribalism where you only congregate with other fundamentalist vegan metal-heads. I find that to be a lot less appealing. I like variety. Maybe our loss of certain kinds of privacy will make us nicer because we’ll spend less time hiding behind our social facades.

In the meantime we’ll slap on the brands and advertise for free. Maybe the real beef is that we should be in control of selling our data. We let Facebook do it for us, if we did it for ourselves we’d feel in control and so we wouldn’t have privacy objections. But how do you do that? The marketing whizzes don’t need ONE person’s data, they need heaping piles of data, so your individual bits and bytes are probably worthless. In fact, they can figure YOU out by using the info from everyone else! So quit bitchin’ and join the herd and become one more node in the hive mind of the human race.

5 thoughts on “Branding

  1. Mark — I laughed out loud and then I had to (yet again, mmnph) thank you for stepping out there and telling it like it really, actually is. I hope (trust) you caught Mark Z. on the ‘sorta-hot-seat’ in front of the Congress; it was such a genuine hoot. Mark Z (in his rather amazing outfit) was quietly and apologetically answering their, um, sorta-questions. What the problem was with the whole scene, I thought (and I did laugh) is that the big important Congressmen just didn’t know what to ask him, as I reckon you and pals noticed, too. The conundrum seemed to be that the Congress personages largely couldn’t really quiz him about what was happening, because they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, and the patois just didn’t match. I
    personally also don’t feel that what I have out there is anything to get too excited about (though a good many people DID/DO feel it is necessary to holler loudly and rather hysterically, hmm). I do wonder, as you point out, why they don’t just take a breath and quit Facebook and go somewhere else. Maybe Twitter. That
    seems like a useless place to harangue while feeling terribly important. But what do I know.

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  2. I actually didn’t watch. I never watch our Congressional Heroes in action–I’d rather watch “House of Cards”! But the story was everywhere of course and it was easy to pick up on what went down.

    I think Zuckerberg and Co. ought to be embarrassed by how badly they were gamed by the Russians and other hackers. I think they invented this giant thing–Facebook–and it now has a life of its own that is bigger and more unwieldy than anticipated. They don’t know how to manage their monster, much like Dr. Frankenstein. Zuckerberg’s been asleep at the controls and now they are behind the curve and they’ve got some hard work ahead of them.

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  3. People other than senators very much care about privacy, and it goes very much deeper than your skiing pictures. Know how almost every other site allows you to “sign in with Facebook?” Don’t ever do that. You’re giving FB everything that you have ever put into the other site, and it is for sale. You are not a user to FB, you are the product. You don’t think it became a zillion dollar company because they let everyone use it for free, did you? Don’t leave FB on when you browse while waiting for a new post from friends. Because everything you browse will also be for sale. It’s everyone else in your pictures, it’s everyone who likes your posts. Advertising is one thing – who cares if you get advertising for, say, ski wear or resorts? But you are being subdivided into psychological tidbits that are then amalgamated in ways that are very sophisticated – to sell, coerce or maybe even get put on a watch list. China is purportedly already using government-fun social “credit” apps to isolate and identify those who might not fit the ideals of the party. You might, for example, be unable to buy an airline ticket if your social credit is undesirable. That wasn’t, I suppose, Mr. Zuckerberg’s intent, but it was cooked into his business model from the beginning. If you haven’t adjusted your privacy settings in FB, do it.

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  4. That’s just it–you can control what you share on FB. I wear a helmet when I ski and wear my seatbelt when I drive. Seems silly not to try to be safe in other places, too.

    One thing governments have never had a problem doing, long before the Information Age, was sorting out people to persecute. I don’t see FB as any more threatening than any other scheme.

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  5. I’m actually more fearful, if that’s the right word, of identity theft than of my data being sold or compromised by FB-Google-etc. Some rogue hacker getting into my money, for example. I know that’s kind of a narrow, selfish perspective, but I suppose I don’t feel the existential threat. Seems like there are a lot scarier things out there.

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