Okay, I didn’t watch the superbowl but I did watch a couple of super bowl ads. Now why would somebody like myself who detests most advertising watch cheesy superbowl ads? Well, superbowl ads are excellent windows into the influential cultural zeitgeist (spirit of the times, or literally the time ghost) The insights gained from superbowl ads can last much longer than the fleeting victories from the great spectacle itself. I wanted to share a couple of quick insights I found related to modern culture, the economy, and ecology. The first one came from the very cliché motorolo xoom commercial (“a tablet to change the world for the better”). Yes, it may sound incredible, even heretical, but the tablet computer (and by extension smartphones) have replaced the automobile as the central cultural object of techno-fetish for the 21st century. Oh my!, crazy I know. In the previous century an author I admire greatly named John Steinbeck wrote “Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than the clitoris.” Amazingly, our digital interconnectedness has officially dethroned the car for good and the percentage of young American who got a drivers license this year has dropped dramatically. Overall, due to the mobile web we really don’t need to drive as much and that’s a good thing.
Look for the tablet to receive mythical cultural attention in the next three years filled with a blind optimism that will likely never examine the hidden costs that desperately need to be ethically addressed. This is the dark side of optimism that all to often only comes to light in a tragic and inevitable flash. Personally though, I feel that mobile web technology will continue to play a critically important -but perhaps not the most important- role in humanity collectively redesigning the way we do things on this planet. My beliefs stand on a paradoxical position because I often look at the hidden costs of this very technology I advocate that society use effectively, expressively, and creatively to share those salient insights that can bring rapid changes in culture, world-view, and actions. In a recent video I posted here by Van Jones on the connection between hidden ecological and socials costs he said, “We can’t trash the planet without trashing people first”. This particular quote looks deep beyond trite quick fix “solutions” to get towards the roots of the controversy. When we run from paradox and controversy we refuse to make sense of the complexity and interrelatedness of the issue and in the words of the zen tradition we “get stuck in the branches while forsaking the root”.
This brings me to my next superbowl ad insight provided indirectly by oh so clever Groupon. Groupon as you may know is a multibillion dollar social e-commerce company known for social innovaiton and yet they deliberately wasted a considerable amount of money on a couple of extremely offensive and highly telling ads. What makes these particular ads so offensive is that besides being callous and insensitive they also lead us to optimistically believe we can simply buy our way out of any ecological or social ill without ever getting to the root of their causes. In my opinion Groupon has not only promoted their company in a very disgusting way, but they are actively promoting a largely unnoticed ideology that is fundamentally dangerous. How dangerous? Well, maybe not as dangerous as dictators but very dangerous non the less.
It is my belief that by using Permaculture as a design system and way thinking about the world we can bring society much closer to alleviating root causes rather than continuously mitigating effects. Permaculture does this by promoting the simple ethics of earth care, people care, and fair share, and also by examining the world in a holistic way that implicitly accounts for the interdependence of systems. I’ve posted a example of one of the terrible Grouopon ads below along with another video, almost a rebuttal if you will, by brilliant modern philosopher Salvoj Zizek. I want to know what your reactions are to this post and the videos so I also threw up a a little poll, enjoy.
(p.s. please come back for the next post where I rip apart the save the whales cliché (also insensitively made into a dumb groupon ad) and give some startling new details about why saving the whales may be one of the most important things humanity can do for health of the planet, and well, humanity.)