The "Future140" Project (Future140 Part 1)

Before the summer began I started a project that I thought could turn the world upside down — or rather, right-side up. I was excited beyond reason and I immediately wanted to feature my first guest. My excitement has died down considerably since I began this back in April of 09, but today I’ve begun to reflect on the project and its real value.

The idea is that I would pose a question, in under 140 characters or less, to an expert in the field of inquiry. Then I would record their response in under 140 seconds or less. For my first guest I’d feature one of my favorite professors in the J-School, Harsha Gangadharbatla Ph.D. I discussed the idea with him and he was open to giving it a shot. He’s a advertising professor and I knew he had lots of insight concerning the future of brands.

I decided to setup the site on Tumblr. I found a theme that I thought suited the project perfectly. I sent Harsha an e-mail to notify him of the question I’d be asking him and when I’d come into his office to meet with him.

“How will brands adapt to the next generation of potential consumers?” My question assumes that the “next generation” have different expectations of brands and that the tactics employed by agencies in the past may not work on younger people in the same way as they did in the past.

I might be wrong in my assumption that young people are more difficult to reach. I’m basing my question on the notion that there is vast resource of product information accessible on the Internet. Social networks, forums, online reviews, and videos are providing a more democratic approach to shopping.

If I want to know if it is a good book I can read a review on Amazon. If I want to know if a gadget is worth it I can visit CNet. If I can’t think of what to eat I can get recommendations from my friends on social networks rather than just munching on some Doritos.

I recorded Harsha’s answer and you can listen to it. He’s guessing that “one-sided messages” are no longer going to be the norm. Forced consumption will be replaced with collaboration. He thinks brands might create the means for consumers to interact with them and that they might become more transparent. He also speculates that these efforts employed by agencies might also be illusions.

I had to cut out a little bit of his answer due to the 140 second rule. He mentioned what Skittles has done to reach consumers online. If you haven’t seen their website you should check it out. It really is more of a portal to their Facebook site. It has to provide a disclaimer to let you know that they are not responsible for what their 3 million plus fans are saying, but for the most part their means of engaging their audience is a perfect example of what Harsha is talking about.

The illusions that can be created by “open brands” I assume are the those kind of surveys, polls, and feedback mechanisms which are really just fronts for the company to go ahead and do what they were going to anyway, but with the advantage of having created a mechanism whereby consumers felt like they contributed.

Harsha mentioned the Obama Administration briefly and he’s led to wonder about our democracy in the United States. I’m not about to tackle that subject, but I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering if our votes really count. Might there be more illusions than what we know? I’m certain there are and I applaud the efforts of individuals who try to solve such mysteries.

The topic of transparency is brought up in his answer as well. I think transparency can most certainly be faked. Especially since most people have no idea what transparency should look like. As a journalist I’d like to think that all answers are within reach and that if I want to find out the inside track of government or corporate agendas I could access them. I can realistically add that even if transparency were to exist at high levels of authority that the information might not always be clear to those of us who are looking at it. It is also possible that the disclosed information can then be misinterpreted by the public, due to seeing perceiving it through their own cognitive dissonance.

I’m reminded that there is good reason to continue Future140. The world is most certainly unclear and just because an institution says it is transparent or democratic, that doesn’t mean it being entirely clear. Projects like Future140 help us to inquire more diligently before making assumptions. At least, this is what I hope.

Phillip K Dick is a bit more pessimistic.
From a Scanner Darkly 1977,
“What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me – into us – clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.”

The "Future140" Project (Future140 Part 1)

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