I’m struggling with the mantra of digital strategists like Seth Godin who argues that we need to make things as simple as possible for people:
We like things that are simple, not complex. Issues where we can take action without changing very much. If a marketer brings us a new idea, it’s either ignored or it’s a problem. A problem because we have to do something with the idea. Buy the new suit, trade in for the new car, install a new IT solution or change the way we feel about an issue.
The best problems, as far as a consumer is concerned, are those that can be solved quickly and easily, with few side effects.
In other words you keep things lubricated, you reduce the friction of the ‘social’, you make things easy and value the ease with which you can engender a relationship. Compare this to the "ethics of inconvenience" put forward by Will Davies, who argues the need for an understanding of friction as social value…
I spoke at this conference earlier this year, discussing what digital technology offered the voluntary sector. One of the things I raised as an anxiety was an advert in the paper from that morning, in which Oxfam were claiming that ‘One click. That’s the difference between life and death for millions of people’ (part of their current I’m In campaign). On the one hand this is a fairly transparent and innocent attempt to ride the wave of the Make Poverty History campaign which ended last year, but on the other, it’s just a pack of lies. My medicine is a bit shakey, but I’m fairly convinced that One click is not the difference between life and death for even one person, let alone millions. The dilemma these charities face is how much to see the internet as a way of lowering barriers to entry, and how much to see it as a potential dilution of the issues at stake. And the problem is that barriers to entry tend to be constitutive of the value of action. The fact that it is a pain in the arse to write a letter, attend a meeting, dress up as batman and climb a monument, run for parliament or wage a decades long campaign for recognition, is why these actions are both admirable and effective.
I find both arguments persuasive. My gripe is not just with the ethics of saving-the-world endeavour being promoted as easy and simplistic but the glut of things that stem from it being easy to join making the attention economy such an issue in the process. Take Flickr. Every day I’m offered the opportunity to join a new flickr group – I’ve already got more groups than I possibly know and rarely use any of them – and am told I’m a new contact for blah blah, who it transpires has 3457 contacts. And of course it’s not just flickr, it’s the whole of social media where quantity equates with value. So much so that it undermines the social ‘media / ‘software’ it is predicated on. In an online world the ease of being social undermines the value of relationships and consequently, over time, you put less effort in and you value the experience / contact / object less. Consequently, diminishing, if not negative, returns set in [and probably lower than the Dunbar number of 150 which has been identified for a community to be cohesive as you and your contacts do not constitute a community in this sense, more a cohort or sub-set within the community].
So if it is time we started appreciating quality rather than quality of relationships, friction rather than ease, how do we sell that into people? How do we make ‘social media’ that values less rather than more? What does a strategy for ‘marketing friction’ to create lasting value between people and brands / issues look like? It’s clearly not what Oxfam are doing, so who is?