Who Cares?

I received an email today aimed at small business owners titled “Instagram, Who Needs It?” Inside the email was the tagline, “Hashtag Your Way Into Your Customers’ Hearts”. The sole subheading within the body of the email said, “Use Hashtags to Build Community”. The email was from a company that sells costly software solutions to small business focused around eCommerce.

My, how far we have come.

kidslovebikesThe hashtag conjures up impressions of that pioneering technology which brought the symbol, above the numeral ‘3’ on our keyboards, out of obscurity – Twitter. Twitter and Instagram, together with other social networking platforms, have certainly made it possible to momentarily intercept the attention of people no matter where they happen to be or happen to be doing. That is, as long as what they are doing does not untether them from technology that keeps them regularly interruptible.

In recent years as just a few thinking individuals begin to challenge the notion that the digital age is nothing but blue sky for the human experience (e.g., increasing narcissism, loss of ability to focus, loss of work productivity, etc.), we have agile and ever-flexible technologists and marketing gurus already brainwashing our minds against questioning them. If it is true that some (including me) are looking for a return to real relationships between people in the marketplace, notwithstanding other spheres, the logical ask is whether consumers are best served from a distance though a datastream rather than face-to-face. While a thorough public conversation has yet to be truly fielded on this, those whose core profits are derived from the communication technology itself are seeking ways to defeat the need for the conversation by cleverly fusing words with emotive meanings into their technological advocacy.

In 1980, who could have predicted that the character symbol ‘#’ could be tied to the needs of the heart and for community-building?

I must be honest, I really resent the messaging in this email newsletter I received, but I know this kind of marketing will likely only increase. Meanwhile, those who challenge it will be instantly dismissed, again with a single word loaded with meaning: Luddite. This is also an obscure word becoming more mainstream as it gets nocked by the technologically addicted. They fire it whenever someone would question their online and on-mobile-device dependencies. Like a poison-tipped arrowhead, the word is meant to be instant death to any argument that the accused Luddite would use to cause people to question whether or not their best life experiences, their best sense of community, and their best relationships with other human beings can truly be facilitated by the electronic ties that technologists would build to bind us.

But these technologists are nothing if not consistent in their shortness: short-minded, short-sighted, and interested in shortcutting consumer thoughts. Short-burst electronic relationships are capitalized on by those who loft the “L”-word. Luddite-shaming is for profiteers who want people to stop thinking about anything very deeply and just go along with them into a condition where anyone you might buy something from has a leash around your neck 24/7/365 and can yank it anytime and as often as they choose. Do we as a human population want to live under those conditions? “Stop thinking, you Luddites!” shouts the nearest software seller and/or its technology shills in response to this question.

My friends, we do need to stop and think for a while. If you are a small business owner, are you going to buy into the idea that your business will be increasingly unsustainable, you will be left behind, and you will ultimately fail unless you buy and implement (and upgrade and enhance and bolt onto your IT platform) more and more technology solutions, software, and social media management? Is your fate tied to how effectively you grab the public and turn them into consumer zombies who must buy something from you because you hashtagged your way into their hearts and convinced them that your technology investments prove how much you love them?

If, in fact, our society’s attention span is helped by technology to descend to so low a level of instant emotional reactivity that no business can succeed without data-mining for consumers, do you really want to embrace and participate in that? I suppose if we come to that place where we have no choice, and yet are not already independently wealthy enough to afford to live off-grid without a regular paycheck, then I am a Luddite indeed. But the real shame should be reserved for those who welcome turning everyone into a number, and measuring their lives’ work by only the numbers. We human beings were meant for so much more than that.

Big businesses are already unfeeling, impersonal entities (when it comes to consumers) who were adept, prior to the internet, at convincing consumers of how much they still care. Whatever. I call on the traditionally larger part of the American economic engine, small business owners, managers and employees, to resist any form of marketing and relating to your customers that primarily starts and/or ends online. We should indeed leverage technology, but only insofar as it helps us to invite people in to do business face-to-face. Unless we preserve in-person, human relationships, that greatest and most important strength of small businesses that set them apart from big-box and internet mass-market sellers, we will all become zombies, and slaves of our technology for certain.

Jeff Koenig

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