Howard Saunders   Aug 17, 2020   Uncategorized   0 Comment

Oh shot, shot shot! Flicking hell. Ever noticed how desperately hard Apple’s predictive text works to stop you swearing? Of course you have. No matter how many times you adjust the o to an i, it will never learn that you simply want to write shit. We all know what’s happening but we just tut silently as we change the o for the fourth time.

Yes, this is the world’s richest, most influential company telling you you shouldn’t say shit. Apple knows best and simply wants to adjust your oikish language in keeping with its own, much holier, principles. And it’s not just swearing. Try writing the word urinate, for example. Apple would much prefer you replace it with ruination, for some reason, while goddamn offers us goddaughter or goddess. Apple has become a Victorian prude. If this isn’t Apple playing God, then God knows what is!

Now try Googling images of ‘knife crime’. Despite London’s knife crime epidemic, overwhelmingly an urban, male, black on black problem, you will need to scan past forty plus images before you find a black hand brandishing a knife. There are dozens of white hands, gloved hands, conveniently silhouetted hands, everything apart from the stereotype…a stereotype that just happens to be this crime’s most accurate representation. We know why this is, too. It’s Google re-educating us, attempting to eliminate a stereotype, sacrificing truth for the greater good, of course. And it’s not a universal distortion as Google will adjust its algorithms to offer you different images in different countries. Googling knife crime in Japan, for example, presents us with a fully indigenous line up. Google is curating reality, nation by nation. 

This has echoes of the scene in the Truman Show where our hero catches a glimpse of the reality behind the scenes. Swiftly, just like Apple and Google, the bit part actors rally around to reassure and distract him in order to pull the narrative back on track. Phew. 

At one level social media has undoubtedly opened up our worlds, allowing us to exchange images and ideas instantly with friends and family right across the planet. Just seventy odd years ago a lonely soldier would clutch a crumpled black and white photograph of his lover close to his heart, flattening and kissing it before sleep. Today we thumb-swipe past a hundred videos of people we barely know dancing embarrassingly in their gardens. Portals directly into other’s lives have never been so open, and yet, paradoxically, our individual worlds are closing in. 

As a bit of a motorcycle enthusiast I find myself inundated daily with adverts for anything and everything remotely associated with bikes and biking: accessories, jewellery adorned with skulls (bikers love skeletons apparently) and even merchandise that has yet to be made, (see ridiculous bot designed T shirt below) in fact, anything the algorithms believe will whet my appetite. I find it not just tiresome but cringesome. Algorithms have boxed me in. My universe has shrunk to the size of a suffocating and vacuous echo-chamber. The digital platforms that do their utmost to avoid reinforcing stereotypes have turned me, and you, into exactly that: a stereotype. 

It gets worse. 

Those cheeky little algorithms are ganging up against us. Each platform, each brand, is rating you as a consumer: how consistent you are, how often you return things, how much you complain, how much you’re prepared to pay for specific products, how punctual you are, how loyal, how long you dwell on images of certain products and how often you ‘like’ them. Tinder, for example, knows precisely where you sit on the scale of eligibility and exactly the sort of partners you’re looking for, of course. But it also knows what time of the month you’re most likely to be looking. Yes folks, Tinder knows when you’re horny. 

As each of these platforms and brands exchange data to enhance their profile on us, we are each being ranked in exactly the same way as the Chinese social credit system: our behaviour is being judged, and nudged.

Like Truman we all enjoy the level of comfort that comes from living in a protected bubble, the routine of grabbing a newspaper from the cheery news vendor every morning. It’s reassuring to be surrounded by like minded people with a similar world view. But it’s when we discover the vendor is fake, a bit part actor in our specific narrative, that we get angry. Ignorance, of course, can be bliss. As Truman’s wife Meryl explains to camera, ‘his is a noble life, a truly blessed life’. Controlled, protected and utterly fake, but blessed.

So like Truman we face a stark choice: we can stay in the safety of our own controlled and constructed mini universe, happy in the comfort of our curated reality, or break free into the dangerous, dirty, complex and contradictory real world. 

It’s up to you.

Thanks for reading. Now follow me on Twitter @retailfuturist for more devastating insights into where we’re heading…

About Howard Saunders

The Retail Futurist, otherwise known as Howard Saunders, is a writer and speaker whose job it is to see beyond retail’s currently choppy waters. Howard spent the first twenty five years of his career at some of London’s most renowned retail design agencies, including Fitch & Company, where he created concepts, strategies and identities for dozens of British high street brands. In 2003 he founded trend-hunting agency, Echochamber, inspiring his clients with new and innovative store designs from across the globe. Howard relocated to New York in 2012 where the energetic regeneration of Brooklyn inspired his book, Brooklynization, published in 2017. His newfound role as champion for retail’s future in our town and city centres gave rise to the title The Retail Futurist. Howard has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs and podcasts for BBC Radio 4, BBC Scotland, the British Retail Consortium, Sky News Australia and TVNZ, New Zealand. His talks are hi-energy, jargon-free journeys that explore the exciting, if not terrifying, retail landscape that lies ahead. When not in retail mode, Howard has recorded, literally, thousands of digital music masterpieces, most of which remain, thankfully, unheard.

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