Six Pixels of Separation – The Age of Context with Shel Israel and Robert Scoble

Six Pixels of Separation is a great podcast for learning about how technology is influencing society on both a macro- and micro-scale. In this particular episode, Shel Israel and Robert Scoble are the featured guests.  Their book, The Age of Context, deals primarily with the modern-day dilemma of maintaining privacy while simultaneously remaining technologically adept.

Their take on the matter is not so much to give out helpful tips to maintain privacy, but rather to weigh the pros and cons of embracing modern networked technology. The pros outweigh the cons, they say. Israel states repeatedly that we tend to look at the extreme dangers of excessively invasive technology, without reminding ourselves that the dangers we automatically think of when we consider the kinds of tech that gather information on us are only true dangers in extreme circumstances. People worry about the government gathering information on them, but how much do they really do that even makes it through the filters on whatever sources the government uses to gather that information?

Could it become a problem eventually?  Once the ideals of the government fully shift, then definitely. For now, however, Scoble is quick to point out that the next technological gap, rather than being between the computer literate and the computer illiterate, or those who can afford modern technology and those who can’t, will be between those who use modern, personally adaptive technology to its full potential and those who are afraid of it and shun it altogether.

Scoble goes on to mention that if we let our fears of privacy invasion keep us from using the masterful technological resources at our disposal, we will simply fall behind, in his own words, “in the workplace and the dinner table.”

So now that I’m four paragraphs in, what does this have to do with me as a future marketer/advertiser? Absolutely everything.

We’re at the end of the broadcast era. For decades, the way that media was transmitted (through broadcasts to everyone with a radio or television) required a certain blanket-style to advertising. You make your ad appealing to as many people as possible, and show it as often as possible. Then channels started forming niches, and advertisers could choose which niche they wanted their ads going to. Advances in communication technology allowed more people to obtain TVs and radios, and to receive whatever was being broadcast.

Then the internet took a few dozen great strides, coupled itself with mobile technology, and now we’re entering an age of contextual marketing. Now, people can choose what they want to see, what they want to read, what they want to hear. They don’t have to watch your “dumb husband vs. longsuffering housewife” commercials on TV. Who actually likes those, anyway?

The point is, marketing has to adapt.  Long ad campaigns are becoming less and less effective, and information-gathering companies like Google and Apple are making huge inroads into finding out what we want before we want it, and then advertising it to us at the opportune moment. Google’s AdSense is one example of this, matching ads to your site’s typical viewer base according to what their stereotype or demographic is most probably to want, especially while visiting a site like yours.

But Scoble takes this farther. Many new entrepeneurs are choosing to develop gadgetry similar to Google Glass, making small devices that you wear in one form or another. The potential these devices have for gathering information about their wearers is incredible.  Google Glass can tell where you are, what you are doing, where your field of vision is aimed, and could even map out your daily routine, using image recognition software to see both who you see and what you see, constantly annotating when you see it.

This freaks people out. But it’s really not all that scary.

If the NSA (or Google/Apple/Amazon/Steve Job’s ghostly minions) wants to find you, they probably could anyway. But would you have ever found that incredible hole-in-the-wall Italian place without Yelp? Or that hospital when your iPhone 7S (or whatever) detects an unstable heart rate in your thumb? Or the alternate flight out of town when your plane is grounded for repairs?  Or the big client for your company when he lets the world know he’s in the market for your services?

The thing is, with this new information, marketing could become less a matter of putting obnoxiously clever ads you don’t care about in front of you as much as possible, and more an issue of finding out what you want and when you’ll probably want it next, and providing you with simple, direct, easy to understand information about whatever it is in real time, right when you want it. Facebook has tried to do this, but still ends up in the broadcasting category, though their broadcasting is more applied to certain niche groups. Programs like Apple’s Siri find what you need, and slowly get to know your preferences. Some apps will even tell you that something you’re interested in (be it a show, a sale, or a cheaper hot dog) is nearby, and you get to choose whether or not you want it. Amazon markets everything based on what you’ve ever bought through them, starting with the most recent purchases.  RFID tags in marketplaces and department stores can let your iPhone know when the merchandise you actually want is nearby.

So, is it worth it?  Is getting all the information that directly applies to you (and not getting the stuff that doesn’t) worth giving up some of your own key information to people you don’t necessarily know? After all is said and done, the choice is (mostly) up to you.

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