Posted on | February 7, 2010 | 1 Comment
Summary: Longtime cries for a digital Sabbath are getting louder, but we think more broadly as humans become cogs in an increasingly pervasive, pernicious 24-hour multimedia marketing wheel.
Tom Mahon is one of the most thoughtful guys I’ve ever encountered. In his own quiet way, he’s long championed the notion that people need to take a digital Sabbath and unplug from our silicon-enabled toys.
I’ll take it a step further: I think we need a marketing sabbath.
David Shenk in 1997 published “Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut.” In it, he wrote that the average AmericanÂ encountered 560 daily advertising messages in 1971. By 1997 thatÂ number had increased to over 3,000 per day.
I would venture to guess that number is at least tripled in the past 13 years.Â We spend increasing amounts of time online (Facebook just totted up its 400 millionth user). License plate holders, billboards, promotional pencils, the backs of taxi and movie-theater seats, coffee cups, T-shirts… it’s hard to think of an object you encounter during the course of your day that doesn’t have a marketing message on it. (We can’t build anything any more in this country, but we sure as hell can market crap better than anyone).
If the number has tripled, then we’re getting hit with a marketing message every 6 seconds of our waking day. Orwell predicted a world in which Big Brother was a dictatorial government that owned the message. Big Brother is here, and his home is on Madison Avenue.
Waiter, There’s a Tag Line in My Urinal
I once stood in front of a men’s urinal in Boston staring at a TV screen on the wall in front of me (get those messages out anywhere, anytime, all day, all night). I looked into the urinal to see one of those plastic screens that keeps gum and cigarette butts from gumming the plumbing, and it too was a marketing message (“a publicly traded company”) for the company that makes the screens.
Digital technology has evolved to where billboards are now LED-enabled static or motion picture advertisements, glaring at everyone who passes.
There’s one such enormous digital billboard on the east end of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (photo). Its hideous glow can be seen from the Marin Headlands, miles away. It’s not Ginza or Shanghai, but it’s a start.
We legislate sound levels in communities; we should be able to force advertisers to turn off lighting on billboards and buildings, streets and alleyways after 10 p.m. And while we’re at it, maybe there should be a moratorium on Internet advertising during certain hours of the day. (Suggesting that in a blog might just get this entry dropped somewhere deep down in the Google search-rankings hell).
As a culture we need to start talking about this more seriously because the inundation of marketing messages will only continue.
Avoiding the unavoidable
You can choose not to open your laptop or turn your TV or radio on, but it’s hard to avoid a garish LED-bright billboard; it’s hard to take a bus or ferry home at night and try to admire the city lights without getting “messaged.” Online, it’s increasingly hard to engage with content without advertising messages joined at the hip. And given the importance of online engagement for most people, simply pulling the plug for great swaths of the day is less and less practical.
Am I tilting at windmills? Probably. I’ve long bemoaned public lighting which blocks the stars for a majority of people living in North America. There’s the Dark Sky movement but it’s not taken as seriously as it should be.
The International Dark-Sky Association features a quotation on its home page:
“Darkness is as essential to our biological welfare, to our internal clockwork, as light itself.”
Today, during the Super Bowl’sÂ orgiastic celebration of advertising, we might want to think about how marketing darkness should be increasingly essential to our emotional and intellectual well being.