We Need Our MarshallsRead More
After last week’s fascinating post on the way branding has permeated our existence to an even unconscious level it seemed only right to take this week to acknowledge something even more pervasive than brand-led economics, that of technology.
Marshall McLuhan had the odd distinction of being a famous (he even made it into Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’) and well-respected man whose teachings couldn’t be fully understood until around 40 years or so after his assertions had been made. Of the many ludicrously accurate predictions and observations the Canadian academic made one that sticks out furthest, uncomfortably, was the idea that “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”. Actually, he may not have said it, his friend may have said it, but nevertheless he meant it, used it and fully believed it.
At the time of wood and plastic and a burgeoning broadcast landscape it was in some ways a difficult to grasp concept. However in the age of the digital frontier, a bewildering array of electronic devices and an unstoppable desire for automation and standardization it’s a lot easier to understand. This is exemplified repeatedly every day, from the backbreaking postures we’ve adopted, the behavioural quirks we’ve picked up (ooh, selfie!) and even the need for an “unplug” movement. It’s been argued we’re losing sight of our humanity. It’s been argued we’re optimizing it.
To stay with McLuhan, here’s another of his famous quotes “The Medium is The Message”. That is to say that the content of any given message is inherently related to its transmission method. That’s why it’s worse to be broken up with by text than by phone, or depressingly bad to get dumped on Habbo Hotel, even if the sentiment or wording and device of delivery is exactly the same. Certain media add to, or subtract from, certain messages. To extend on that the misunderstanding of certain media is distorting messages, or creating altogether illogical new ones. Currently it manifests as the spectacularly impossible, for practical, subjective and democratic reasons,attempt to ban undesirable (not illegal) content from the Internet or the constant denigration of platforms such as social media as unreliable sources of information. The medium is being intrinsically connected to the message, but the message is being understood without a full appreciation of the medium. Worse than that, often a negative, unreasoned perception of the medium is applied.
We’ve shaped our tools and we’re wildly flailing them and now the new breed of men and women like Marshall McLuhan urge little but caution. More so than ever dystopia and utopia are seen within a blink of the eye and the power of the tools we’ve shaped is day-by-day being better exposed. Whether it’s the Arab spring or the PRISM controversies, the incredibly powerful tools both human and electronic are centralizing media and messages.
Throughout months of articles on this blog we’ve provided visions of the future across nearly every major aspect of life. Now we face a raft of developments in wearable technology, 3D printing and the network of things and personal genetics that can catalyse a relentlessly aggressive rate of change across the last few decades.
If last week’s post raised one question in my mind it was – why can’t we take a clear Coke as Coke. Essentially it’s because we shaped Coke and now Coke has shaped our expectations. We’d rather have a brown almost-coke, than a clear actual Coke. Because Coke being brown is as important as the taste of Coke. The medium of an off-putting looking liquid is inseparable from the supposed reward, the taste.
So the question to ask this week – are we increasingly shaping our tools through relentless development and progress, or our old tools ever more frequently spiralling further and further out of their old limitations, shaping us?
Image source: Tumblr
I like it, but I don’t know whyRead More
Ever had that gut feeling? When everything seems fine on the surface yet you have a gnawing sensation in your gut that it isn’t, or when you meet someone that seems friendly enough but for some reason they send alarm bells ringing. This is your unconscious mind at work, picking up on cues you aren’t consciously aware of. Research shows that our unconscious minds can influence our conscious thoughts and decisions, and our bodies know what we want before we do. Marketing consultant Douglas Van Praet believes marketing research should be focused on understanding this, as unconscious minds are what sway consumer decisions.
How does it work? Historically, unconscious thought has been known as the source of dreams. However new insight has revealed it may be involved in decision-making, problem solving and critical thinking. The theory that most of the human mindoperates unconsciously was pioneered by Sigmund Freud, and an iceberg is used to visually represent his theory.
“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.” Sigmund Freud (img. source: http://goo.gl/6zy15)
‘Implicit learning’, or learning without knowing, has been proven by cognitive research, which shows that individuals register and acquire more information than they can experience in their conscious minds. This information is retained, and influences our cognitive thought processes.
An example of the power of unconscious association is given by neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain. If you have an argument with someone whilst dining at a table with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth, and the next day you meet a man with a similar patterned shirt, your instinct will be that you don’t like this man. This is triggered by your unconscious mind, which overrides logic, or awareness. Similarly this can be applied to advertisements, where people are aware of the messages but not aware of how they are influenced by them. As Van Praet argues, it is absurd for someone to brush their teeth with toothpaste proven to whiten teeth, and then use a bright green mouthwash containing blue and yellow dyes. However the colour green is associated with a fresh and clean feeling, which prevails logic. The failure of ‘Coke Clear’ and ‘Crystal Pepsi’ in the 1990s was attributed to colour associations, because people strongly associate the taste of cola with its rich brown colour. Positive and negative opinions on products are fabricated largely without logic or awareness, but with unconscious association.
As associations shift, so do markets. Steve Jobs famously said he didn’t believe in market research, as it wasn’t the consumer’s job to know what they wanted. In order to gain real creative breakthroughs, marketers must look to unconscious behaviour. A monk that achieves human agency does so through meditation and training his unconscious habits. Until we are all capable of such stuff, unconscious association will remain the seat of motivation, and is the key to understanding what people want.
Three-Parent Babies?Read More
Under new government plans it was announced that Britain would become the first country to allow a new in-vitro fertilization (IVF) process, creating an embryo that consists of DNA from three people. Reports in the media of a so-called ‘3-parent baby’ stirred major controversy. But to what extent are these claims true?
The procedure, pioneered by scientists at Newcastle University, will prevent embryos from developing debilitating diseases, inherited directly through maternal mitochondrial DNA. Using this technique, the fertilized nucleus is transferred to an egg with healthy donor mitochondria, expressing the functional mitochondrial genes. Mitochondrial-related disorders affect 1 in around 6500, and offering this procedure will give women that carry the risk the option to have healthy children.
Going beyond the fact that parenthood means far more than just genes, approximately 25,000 genes come from the genetic material of the nucleus, and about 37 from the mitochondrial donor. Many scientists argue that to suggest that the donor is a parent makes nonsense of the concept of parenthood.
Technicalities aside, there are many pressing ethical issues raised by this procedure, as altering genetic material shapes future generations. Could this be the first step down the ‘slippery slope’? This technology has been mounted as scientists out of control, intervening with natural selection and nature itself. In addition, many believe by crossing this line we move one step towards altering genetic material of the nucleus, and therefore controlling the characteristics of our offspring. Here’s where our overactive imaginations come into action. Behold, in 100 years time a population of blonde-haired, blued eyed designer babies.
The likelihood of this prospect is slim to none. Achieving this development in technology required an Act of Parliament to be passed, and so to go beyond this would require a new law to be created; not so much an easy step down the slippery slope. Fortunately, the UK has stringent regulation of IVF services and is one of the best places for science to move forward. If this procedure had been developed elsewhere, where regulation and genetic counseling is inferior, this may not have been the case.
This is a huge advance in life sciences, which aims to improve the quality and standard of care of life. For a child facing death in infancy or their teenage years, this is a much bigger issue than a third person donating some cellular material. For women that carry these mutations, it is providing them reproductive choice. Just as the first baby was conceived by IVF, or the first person received a heart transplant, a leap of faith must be made.