‘Society begets its heroes in its image and likeness […] According to the idealized image it has of itself. Regardless of the degree of real presence of the virtues in a given society, it must have an ideal, a goal towards which to go or towards which it could be directed’ Aguirre, J. (1)
Who we choose as our reference is who we choose to inspire us; this idea, extrapolated to the whole of the society can show what its collective values and priorities are.
Every year, the British analysis and survey portal YouGov conducts a study of who are the most admired personalities in the world (2). If we take the global results for 2019 we have a podium of the first five personalities that is quite revealing in terms of values: the first place is (still) occupied by Bill Gates, followed by Barack Obama, Jackie Chan (?), Xi Jinping, president of the Chinese Communist Party, and Jack Ma, president and founder of Alibaba.
We don’t find in the ranking of the 20 most outstanding male personalities a single artist, thinker, writer or any other form of freethinking; Nor does it occur in the list of the 20 most prominent female personalities, with the exception perhaps of Malala Yousafzai .
What this list reveals is that the world only or mainly cares for political power, economic power and the fame of the showbusiness. Thus responding to the values of the hypermodernity described by Lipovetsky : the market, the technical efficiency and the self. (3)
The fact that each year is also extolled, from one of the standard bearer of the extreme American capitalism such as it is the Forbes magazine, who are the 10 richest billionaires in the world only helps to feed the idea that money and technology are the only forms of personal fulfillment.
In 2019 list we have the all-powerful Jeff Bezos (Amazon) topping the list, followed by Bill Gates (match with the most admired people list); Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is in eighth place, and Larry Page (Google) is in tenth place.
So we have three heavyweights from the founding decade of the internet tech companies ruling the podium for the world’s richest millionaires.
Technology, apps and digital platforms are not bad per se, but our interpretation of their role in society can be; leading to an over-dimension of their role and their need and technological skills as fundamental talents to achieve social success (inevitably linked to economic success).
‘[…] during hypermodernity, technology has become an important pillar and the hero must respond to this social value. This is where we see how the media have taken the geeks back and portrayed them as heroes, as an exemplary role model in this neoliberal society. The advancement of new technologies and the possibility of their use by different sectors of society facilitate their acceptance as heroes.’ (4)
This attitude towards the result and the overvaluation of technical knowledge and its ability to give immediate monetary results are the reflection of the zeitgeist of the already mentioned hypermodernity. With the hedonistic, carefree and experiential phase of postmodernism now over, we have gone round and round and are ‘moving towards responsibility and results. […] It is no longer a matter of reaching the stage of joy in consumption: from the party one passes to the celebration of achievement, from protest to management. Pleasure is well received when it comes as a result of competition, following the rules and professional success.’ (5)
The arrival of the founders of technology to the podium of the winners, added to the ability of this business model to generate markets and monetize anything, whether it is tangible or not (‘time’, to take an example) gives rise to the proliferation, like viruses, of startup incubators looking for the next app that will blow up the market.
‘Through the proselytizing of actors who, having updated their «conceptual exploitation system» and touched by grace, spread everywhere the precepts of the «silicone bible». A powerful movement is underway that manifests itself in the expansion of a doxa spread by industrialists, most economists, universities and large schools, foresight agencies, think tanks and pressure bodies of all levels, management theorists or even magazine covers, who celebrate start-uppers who «break schemes» right and left.’ Expressed in the words of the philosopher Éric Sadin.
The startapization of the world permeates everything. Not only the business and mercantile functioning, but also how our mental structures are configured. Our way of developing our personal growth, our professional worth, what we nurture with and what we endow with importance and our role within the social gear.
In that hypermodern conception of an individualistic vision in which by knowing the latest technology and processes we will touch the sky of glory and wealth, we subject our forms to the logics of business management and the lean philosophy: hyper-speed adaptation to demand, offer of services without depth, search for short-term results, acquisition of monetizable knowledge – meaning data -, and change of pace if it doesn’t work.
We also (self)manage ourselves from a mercantile logic, we measure our profitability, we look for efficiencies and we specialize in whatever the market demands; when demand changes, we recycle ourselves.
‘Gary Becker […] who coined the idea of human capital, had to come up with concrete models for how people should, in terms of the market, understand everyday interactions. Inspired by Becker in embracing the language of the market, business writers began to talk about how people should think about investing in themselves and seeing themselves as an asset whose value only the market could effectively determine. Over time, a large body of literature emerged advocating that people should see themselves as a business: a set of skills, assets, qualities, experiences, and relationships that must be continually managed and improved.’ (6)
This phenomenon results in an impoverishment of knowledge, understood as culture, ability to reflect, critical spirit, imagination, because this is not measurable, quantifiable, monetizable, it is not trading upwards. An impoverishment that does not exclude advertising agencies.
Since the important thing is the generation of something tangible and saleable in the very short term, we ask society, the people who have to contribute ‘knowledge’, creatives, brand managers, publicists (and other professionals), the wrong skills and wrong knowledge. They are erroneous mainly for two reasons: the first because they will be condemned to expiration and therefore to the obsolescence of the individual in the work environment. When the moment of glory of the current technology passes it will be replaced by someone who knows how the next one works. Secondly, and much more importantly, because this logic makes us enter a vortex of repetition of patterns, data readings and application of processes that leaves zero space for imagination and creativity. We don’t take the time to think, to create; we are imbued with reading analytics in real time.
Thus we find creative companies demanding endless technological and digital skills such as digital strategist, social media ux writer, programmatic director… and other countless absurdities to be part of a field whose raison d’être is society, culture, the human being, creativity, intuition. Forgetting that what matters is what we tell, not where we tell it or what funnel or data we are responding to.
We are thus witnessing an absolute inversion in values, where technology and the ability to activate a button take precedence over the capacity for critical thinking and imagination.
As Éric Sadin puts it: ‘contemporary dispossession. First, the dispossession with respect to our power of collective deliberation relative to a phenomenon that is supposed to be inevitable and that is imposed under a thoughtless and guilty rush. And, secondly, the dispossession – even more decisive, although in another way – of the autonomy of our judgment caused by the fact that the main spring of this economic model depends on the neutralization of human free decision and spontaneity.’
The paradox of this situation is that, while advertising and communication agencies and marketing allow themselves to be engulfed by the logic of the algorithm and the startup, in turn, technology companies are incorporating profiles from the humanities (7) and social sciences into their ranks. precisely to provide that disruptive thinking that we like to boast about in advertising and that we should be contributing from the creative agencies.
I don’t know if we are already at the point of no return, but in any case we should reflect on what our role is, as communicators, publicists and active agents of the cultural story of our time. Today ‘[…] we delegate more and more individual and collective decisions to these technological systems […] I advocate reintroducing the sensible, the contradiction, the imperfection, the fear of contact with others and conflict, when necessary.’ It seems that if in twenty years someone looks back on the history of advertising they will see a turning point in which we went from creating illustrative, inspiring visuals that transmitted a discourse and the spirit of an era to a compendium of digital banners of dubious aesthetic taste responding to a purchase funnel.
‘Let’s imagine that today two students leave their houses with one apple each. They meet at the university and exchange their apples; each will return home with an apple at night. But let’s imagine that these two students leave their house with one idea each, they are in a classroom, they exchange ideas and at night, when they return home, they have two ideas each. Culture always enriches, it is a virtuous circle that enriches all its protagonists’
George Bernard Shaw
- (1) AGUIRRE, J. (1996) “Héroe y sociedad: El tema del individuo superior en la literatura decimonónica”. Quoted in ERREGUERENA ALBAITERO, M. J. “Los geeks, los héroes de la hipermodernidad”. (2016) El Cotidiano 195. pp. 39-46, (7-3-2020).
- (2) FONT, E; (2019). “World’s most admired 2019”. In: YouGov. (4-3-2020).
- (3) LIPOVETSKY, G. (2006) “Los tiempos hipermodernos”; Barcelona, Anagrama.
- (4) ERREGUERENA, M. J; Op. Cit.
- (5) TAMÉS, E. (2007) “Lipovetsky: Del vacío a la hipermodernidad”. Recovered from Casa del Tiempo, UAM, México; p. 47.
- (6) GERSHON, I; “The Quitting Economy”, In: Aeon, 2017. (7-3-2020).
- (7) HERRANZ, A; “Estas son las humanidades que deberías estudiar si quieres trabajar bien o con futuro en tecnología”, In: Xataka.
- (8) VICENTE, A; Interview to Éric Sadin. Recovered from Babelia. El País. 2017, July 12.
On the author:
Sara Lucas is Publicist and Client Services Directos. She has over ten years in advertising agencies managing integrated communication projects for both national and international campaigns. She also has a degree in Humanities and a postgraduate degree in Contemporary Art Theory and Aesthetics.