Are we asking the right questions about our teens and technology?
Today’s teens don’t need to be chased down. They’re putting themselves out there online for anyone to see, telling the world what is cool, starting with their online profiles.
“Likes” are the social currency of our time. The more likes you have, the better you feel.
When a kid “likes” something online, it becomes part of the identity that they broadcast to the world, the way a t-shirt or a bedroom poster defined me when I was a kid. For kids today, you are what you like.
More than any generation before them, today’s teens can speak directly to the artists, brands, and celebrities they like. And sometimes they get a reply.
It’s self-empowering. It gives me a voice.
The icons of this generation are “like,” “retweet,” etc.
When you hit “like,” when you “retweet,” when you make any expression online, do anything online, you’re creating data. You’re creating a demographic profile of yourself.
This is when the currency of likes, turns into actual currency.
So, is this a music video, or an ad? It’s the perfect mashup of culture and commerce.
You are your own media company.
Instead of selling the product to the audience, the idea is to get the audience to sell the product for them.
It’s all about openness and transparency, because you want trust, that you believe what the other person is telling you. And it’s no different from a brand, and your best friend.
It’s all about trying to figure out this pipeline of connected pieces that are going continue that audience being your best marketer. Because that’s the hope.
What’s designed to look like a grassroots wave of excitement is actually a meticulously planned marketing strategy. It may be catching fire, but it was doused with gasoline before hand.
Absolutely nothing is left to chance. The goal is to create a controlled brush fire online. Every bit of it is being manipulated, from the beginning of the campaign to the end. A year out, your 16 year old is starting to have an interest in movies that are a year away, and she’s thinking it’s organic. Meanwhile, there’s a studio back there counting how many fans she has click on it. Studios worry that the minute they show you the man behind the curtain pulling all the strings, audiences will start tuning out. So, they’re really working hard to pretend this is all happening by magic. It’s Hollywood. It all happens by magic, right?! But to the studios the real magic is that kids are happy to work for free promoting their films.
Your consumer is your marketer. It used to be a one-way conversation of the marketer to the consumer. Now, the consumer is doing as much as the marketer is, in getting the message across. They’re wanting to be as much a part of the process, as much as the company will let them be.
Kids are coming up with the content, then, helping to promote it back to themselves in the endless feedback loop between broadcast and social media. And of course, selling.
“Selling out” doesn’t exist as a term anymore. I’m not sure they even know what it means.
Is this really social media’s promise of self-determination. Promoting movies in exchange for virtual prizes? Playing the class clown in public to get free skateboard gear? Expressing your identity through junk food advertisements. Can kids really win when they don’t make the rules? Maybe that’s why some of them are opting to be the game makers themselves.
Many of these creators are kids. That’s why it reflects the teenage zeitgeist. The teenagers are creating this architecture. They grow up and they become super rich, Silicon-Valley types, and there’s this giant underclass forced to go, “like, like, like,” and they’re probably around their age.
There are nuances in how you brand things that create different psychological responses. We don’t even call ourselves “ads” to consumers. The terminology we use is “rewards” and “moments.” There really is no mention of ads or media. As we go out and experience the world, the things that make the most impact on us are the ones that come up serendipitously. So, that’s the psychological principle we’re offering.
“Serendipity by design.” It’s almost Orwellian, but maybe it was inevitable. After all, this generation has grown up in the arena of “likes.” So it’s no wonder that they are becoming master manipulators of social media themselves. Like the hidden game masters in the Hunger Games.
Ultimately, kids are out there alone, trying to survive.
Kids have taken the marketing techniques that have been used on them and are now using them on each other, all in pursuit of the same prize. It’s the paradox of generation like. These kids are empowered to express themselves as never before. But with tools that are embedded with values of their own.
Getting likes does feel good. At least, for the moment.
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Rushkoff continues his work on teenagers, advertising, and media with this installment. As with his other productions (The Persuaders, The Merchants of Cool, and Digital_Nation) the pixelated veil is lifted revealing an economically driven machine that is more manipulative than agencies would perhaps like to admit. His reporting is invaluable for the mere understanding of the forces that exist behind the ubiquitous screens that have swarmed our lives. The benefit of “peering behind the curtain,” is almost as incalculable as is the ethical responsibility beholden upon each of us to be cultural critics in what we are so often blindly participating. Only then can we begin to inoculate ourselves against the negative effects these forces have on our souls and psyches.
Regarding a critical analysis of value, there are deep questions that illuminate the complexity of these social phenomena, a chemotherapeutic mix of good and evil that exists in the very culture we have created and the values we continue to perpetuate. The ability for an individual or community to work their way from poverty to prominence through capitalism, all the while taking advantage of — and exacerbating — the narcissistic vulnerability in us all is perhaps the most complicated paradox of human flourishing there is. It is impossible to decry it all, for what else would take its place that could bring about meaning, purpose, wealth, and flourishing?
This leaves me to believe that the “free enterprise” is the great oxymoron of the American Dream. In every great advancement and enterprise, there is always a cost. And given that these are human behaviors, most frequently the line items in the expense category are not financial, but human. The problem is that what is gained is so laden with attractive value — the currency of such a highly positive identity — that anyone questioning its value takes the mantle of irrelevant prophet.
But it’s the prophets that speak truth to power.
Thus, I consider Rushkoff’s work, more than just journalism. He is a prophetic voice, an awakening to truth, and a guide to the human spirit. To watch programs like this (and others) is to actively recognize the scales on our eyes, and to be excruciatingly curious for what possibly could be seen should those scales fall.