Big Ideas Move Product, But Great Big Ideas Move People To A Higher Place

The more I read from writer, artist and coder Jonathan Harris, the more I like the guy. He’s a humanist and the world is in desperate need of humanists, now as ever.
In a piece on his site about how he looses touch with his humanity when deep inside a coding project, he shares a conversation he had with a friend about her experience this year at SXSW.

She described a sense of euphoria there among them — an excited optimism for what they were building, and for what the online world can become. But there was something that bugged her, too, and she was trying to tell me what she thought it was.
“Everyone’s really smart and friendly and nice,” she said, “so it’s not that. And everyone seems to be having a really good time, but it’s like everyone is so smart and logical and ambitious, but no one is wise. I think that’s it. In all this stuff they’re building, there doesn’t seem to be any wisdom. It’s like everyone is just leaping ahead trying to build the next best gadget to get a lot of users and make a lot of money, but no one’s really asking why, or what it’s all really doing to us as humans.”
She was saying how the Internet today feels like the fast food revolution in the 50’s, when everyone was suddenly so amazed they could get food so fast and so cheap that they gorged themselves on it, like we gorge ourselves today on technology. Both habits lack consciousness, and are run by frantic compulsion, even addiction.

“No one is wise.” Damn, that’s a painful indictment. It’s also the exact thing we need to consider when building technology, companies, movements, campaigns, etc.
Of course, stopping to consider the implications of advertising bad products is something very few people are in a position to do. When you have bills to pay and people to answer to, it’s kind of tough to raise your voice and speak truth to power. Yet, for those committed to a better future (for advertising and the world at large), speaking up is the right action to take.
There are so many wrong turns in advertising. We promote dangerous or totally worthless products. We mask all kinds of truths in cleverness and absurdity. We promote over-consumption which leads directly to environmental degradation and horrible work conditions. I know, I know, who has time to consider these kind of weighty issues when there’s yet another stupid meeting at 3:00 pm to attend and comps due by end of business?
I know there are many thoughtful people reading this and hundreds of possible responses. We all have our own way of doing good in the world and balancing that with the day-to-day demands of modern existence. What I keep coming back to is the realization that brands and their agents have the capacity to do so much good, but in order to move forward on this do-good agenda it has to be a priority and to become a priority it first needs to be offered up for consideration.
Editor’s Note: I also wrote about Harris and his work on my personal site recently. See Analog Sessions Feed Digital Dreams.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.