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Safety first

(Wrote most of this on the road earlier this week…)

Had an unintentional overnight stay in Providence RI September 11, following a talk with some friends about the future of the Internet, and because the Internet has become essential infrastructure for the ecology of business, the future of enterprise and economy as well. I woke at 3am to catch an early flight back to Austin, and while I was preparing to leave saw on MSNBC a replay of the 9/11/2001 news – the attack on the World Trade Center.

On the shuttle to the airport my attention opened and I noticed a lighted bus stop signboard, an ad for footwear, and something about that very traditional piece of advertising felt safe. Much of the conversation of the last few days had been about how crazy, chaotic, and unpredictable the world has become. I think most of us are feeling more anxiety than ever before – we don’t feel safe. Our perception is too often that the world is coming unhinged.

Seeing that ad, I thought how we all just need to feel safe.

Recently I was talking to a friend who does marketing, and I was saying that marketing is practically undone in the new world of fragmented, complex communications, where mindshare is focused more on media for connection and relationship than on the kind of one-way mass media that traditional media’s built on. Marketing professionals can and do work hard to understand the new media environment and adapt their skills, but do we really need marketing, or are we disintermediating the space between operations/production and the customer? Doc Searls has described a concept called “vendor relationship management” (VRM) that connects the customer more directly with product, a disintermediation of need and provisioning. In that context marketing may be replaced by customer ratings and reviews, and successful sales determined (as it should be) by product quality, driven by operations. In that context, more of the customer’s dollar is allocated to the producer; some part of it is possibly allocated to systems that manage connections, and the social interactions that provide product feedback (hence the great success of Bazaarvoice). Given all this, I wouldn’t feel especially safe if my skills were all about marketing, because marketing could become irrelevant.

I’ve just presented a scenario – it’s not real at this moment, only a conceptual projection based on trends in the world I know something about. If you’re a social media maven, you may nod your head as you read the paragraph above. If you’re a marketing profession, you’re probably shaking your head, thinking of all the ways this scenario could be wrong. But you don’t necessarily feel safe.

My point here is not to talk about marketing, but to talk about very real concerns about safety. A scenario like this that seems to marginalize the marketing profession can create instability as a whole sector of the economy is described as endangered species. Even if the scenario is completely correct, how brutal do we want to be about this? After blathering about the End of Marketing to my friend whose life is built around that industry, I was thinking we have a responsibility to help people feel safe, not endangered. That’s increasingly hard to do.

Someone said recently how we should consider the possibility of a 90% unemployment scenario, because we could be headed there, at least in the U.S. What does that world look like? It’s more like 90% no longer having what we traditionally think of as jobs; though they still find ways to put bread on the table. Will people work less, earn less?

We’ve discussed how we’re no longer in a world that can produce billionaires. We may no longer be in a world where we can guarantee even a simple majority a secure job with benefits.

But my point is not what changes and difficulties the future may bring. I’m concerned with the psychological and sociological impact of those changes, specifically how we can mitigate the potential profound insecurities, the sense that we are no longer safe.

At the same time, I’m reading a Scientific American Mind article that suggests a relationship of sociability to health. “Research shows that being part of social networks enhances our resilience, enabling us to cope more effectively with difficult life changes such as the death of a loved one, job loss or a move….Not only to our group memberships help us mentally, they also are associated with increased physical well-being.”

I suppose the message here is that connected, we feel safer. And I find that I really do want people to feel safe, to BE safe. Hence the urge to build communities, shared relationships, intimate connections.

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