As humans, we’re complex creatures. On one hand wired for the path of least resistance, and, on the other, desperate to prove that we’re each outliers, ready to go against the grain to preserve our independence at all costs. And that may be true, for certain individuals. However, as people?
We’re predictably easy to lull into acceptance of new models, especially when it feeds our need for the path of least resistance.
Mr. Piggly Wiggly himself
Take, for example, one Clarence Saunders. One hundred years ago, Mr. Saunders was a man with a plan, and a radical one at that. Deciding that paying additional clerks to go and get the items that his customers requested from his grocery was one expense too many, he jettisoned them, and created in his Memphis Piggly Wiggly the world’s first self-service grocery.
His idea was so revolutionary that he received a patent for it in 1917, the concept of “self-service.”
Shoppers were no longer dependent upon a clerk and their friendly, yet perhaps questioning eye, to pick the items that they wanted from the shelves—they now were free to select what they wanted. Flash forward, and e-commerce has broadened Saunder’s idea beyond even his wildest speculative dreams could have imagined. All one has to do is to imagine a want or need, click “Order Now”, and multiple online retail sites will have it to one’s home almost instantaneously. But with that convenience, comes the cost of being a commodity as well.
Nowhere is safe
From the beginning of commercial enterprise, one can imagine that advertising and marketing has had a long history. In fact, in the ruins of Pompeii, commercial advertisements that adorned the walls have been found in the ruins. What’s changed over time is not that advertising exists, but that its prevalence has extended to the level of ubiquitousness. There are precious few places in which one could expect not to be advertised to, except by consent, and those are rapidly dwindling. In 2003, advertisements prior to the beginning of movies were such an outrageous concept that they sparked class action lawsuits. Now?
They’re an expected part of the movie going experience.
At home, one was always able to control the barrage of advertisements by shutting out the outside world—the newspaper gave way to radio, the radio to TV, TV to the Internet. But as the Internet gives rise to the permutations of connectedness, and “home assistants” such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home begin to become trusted sources of both information and convenience, where does the line get drawn?
In a great thought piece at Signal v. Noise, the contention is made that, as the world’s largest advertising purveyor, Google can’t but help themselves utilize their wherewithal to not only listen to the commands that users give their Home system, but to what comes in between. Think of it this way: if benign listening can lead to a tangible increase in sales for the companies that buy ad reach from Google, which, in turn, allows Google to raise both ad rates and demonstrate success, allowing them to increase the number of advertisers it serves, where’s the incentive not to do so?
Just as Saunders’ patent revolutionized the world of shopping for the consumer, so too will the introduction of home assistants do the same, eventually. What we’ve got to be prepared for is the trade off, in which there are dwindling few sanctuaries of solitude, even within one’s own home, and the privacy therein, and understand that, in the new economy, our most commonplace utterances are now actionable moments for others, even when no one ought to be listening.