Posted by: hdemott | May 13, 2010

Media, Privacy, And The Loss Of Awe

Last night I sat on the couch as I often do: laptop on the lap – TV controller next to me.

We watched a few week old episode of the Tudors off of the DVR (we’re a bit behind)  – and in the episode Henry takes his newest bride as well as his daughter Mary, to the North to awe the populace and win them over after some tough years of rebellion. Along the way – his minions ride before him beating drums and dispensing coins and crowds appear at the side of the horse track to look up in awe at a King who is more of an idea to most of them than a concrete individual. If they see Henry once or twice in their lives, it is a lot. If they hear him speak – it is an honor. They know nothing of his likes and dislikes, his ability to embrace someone as a close adviser one minute and behead him the next, his serial queens or his constant philandering.

Contrast that with life in the media today.

Not a day goes by without seeing the President on the television – given one or more speeches on a variety of topics. Newspapers are filled with analysis of what was said just before – and talk shows go on ad nauseum dissecting and parsing every comment. WE know everything about the man, everything about his wife – and quite  about about his kids. There is no awe and wonder.

And it is only getting worse.

In the last day the world has found out that not only has Facebook eclipsed Yahoo in serving up display ads, it has crossed 400M users, and has the worlds worst privacy policy (see here, here, here, here, and here)

While I’ve been writing this I found two more – with Alley Insider crushing Zuckerberg here and Jason Calicanis flaming him here.

What is eminently clear is that more and more information – more and more of your life – is ending up somewhere out there on the web – categorized and easily accessible for all to see. Whether you contributed to it yourself through the use of any social media service (or frankly any service at all online) or because your data found its way there through companies you have done business with – your privacy is an illusion. (Yeah, I know I stole this line from somewhere – just not sure who to attribute it to)

It used to be that communicating with the CEO of a company was a difficult task – where you had to go through a pharynx of handlers to get to the top – now you just crack the e-mail code at the company and send a message to 12 different people – one of them is almost guaranteed to work.

Used to be you went to a meeting – and you could dig up a little intel on the person – and try and make a connection. Now the first thing you do is to Google the person – then you look on Facebook and Linkedin. Soon, you have built a profile on them so that by the time you actually meet – there is no mystery – no feeling out process – no awe.

Hey, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing – it’s just the way things are.

On a conference call an hour ago, a senior advertising exec spelled it out pretty clearly when he said: in 5 years there will me no old media and new media – it will all be the same.

There’s a general axiom on Wall Street which states that anything your write in an e-mail – make sure you are fine with seeing it taken out of context and put on the front page of the Journal. If you are fine with that – then go ahead and hit send – if not – then think about it and rewrite – because its worse – in the WSJ it used to be seen by a small group of people for a limited time – now it is out there forever every time someone Google’s you.

In the end – new media and social media in particular have dramatically broken down boundaries between people – so much so that guys like Fred Wilson have to declare e-mail bankruptcy. Too many people want to reach him and can. (and do) This is not a bad thing – it is just a new thing.

Our political leaders are no longer figures held in great respect and awe – our Hollywood stars aren’t particularly mysterious (they go to Starbucks! they drive their own cars!)  – and our business leaders are’nt all knowing seers (except Warren Buffet of course – he is an oracle!)

And this may be a great thing – but for the predominance of traditional media – it is an alien thing – and something they are just not well equiped to deal with. Networks still adopt the voice of god in terms of news casts. Even their websites look like Mt. Rushmore – with pictures of the anchors emblazoned on top of the web page for all to see. Editors still blaze forth on editorial pages that fewer and fewer read. Radio programmers still believe they know far better than their listeners what they want to hear and so forth.

Come on down off the mountain. There’s no one behind the curtain – we all know that now (in fact we not only know that, but we know where you had dinner last night courtesy of Foursquare). Come on in and join the party.

People are killing Zuckerberg and his privacy issues. Forget the noise. No one asked you to be on Facebook, or Twitter, or My Space – or any other social service. No one is forcing you to be. No one makes you blog – or post photos – or write comments – or check in at a restaurant – it’s up to you. But if you want to participate – understand fully well that anything you contribut will be out there for all to see forever.

You’ll never sneak up on anybody again!

And that’s just fine with me.

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