5.5. Ebb and Flow
Markets are conversations. People exchange goods, services, ideas, and values in an intricate dance of push and pull. And as technology disrupts and transforms the marketplace, only those who listen carefully will profit from this persistent disequilibrium between supply and demand. There is no substitute for the richness and intimacy of human conversation, person to person, one on one. But increasingly, our conversations are mediated by technology and co-opted by corporations. In today's world of stealth marketing and ambient advertising, we are without a doubt, unbalanced. Push is drowning out pull. Messages adorn every surface. And it's driving us bananas. Marshall McLuhan famously remarked, "the medium is the message." In today's crazy world, where bananas have become a medium, what may we ask is the message?
But we do have the ability to push back. In 1993, the United States Congress passed the Space Advertising Prohibition Act. Apparently, we decided that mile-long mylar billboards boosted into orbit and visible from planet earth crossed the line. And in 2003, the Federal Trade Commission began enforcing the National Do Not Call Registry. Within months, over 55 million consumers had signed up to block telemarketers from crossing the line into their homes. Unfortunately, we have not yet figured out how to stop spam from invading our inboxes. That is our next battle and our aim is clear. In the words of Winston Churchill, who once helped rid the British of the scourge of spam:
To win this war, we must focus on findability, for in the complex relationships between push and pull, there's real potential to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of our communications and consequently help both sender and receiver. Useful personalization, like relevant information retrieval, is difficult, but not impossible. We are making progress. We are increasingly able to control our experiences and focus our attention.
Of course, the battlefield is constantly changing. TiVo and RSS let us skip the ads, so the ads migrate into the content. Google delivers a better search but for how long? It's an ultra-competitive marketplace of fickle consumers and disruptive technologies where nobody knows what lies around the corner.
And, at the seashore between the land of atoms and the sea of bits, there rises an Internet of objects we can barely imagine. Objects precisely located in space and time. Objects that ingest their own metadata. A world of useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, credible objects forged by the union of engineering, marketing, and design.
In this wonderful world of everyware, we will enjoy an unprecedented ability to pull people, places, products, and ideas into our attention, but we will also face new dangers as others find creative ways to push unwanted messages and experiences into our lives. The path to ambient findability promises great adventure. Perhaps, along the way, we will learn as Lao Tzu counseled, to be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.