Generally, when I hear the term "futurist" I tend to break out in a healthy eye roll. Nowadays, it is a title too easily given and rarely backed up. If there is anyone who deserves such a distinction, however, it would be Douglas Rushkoff -- a visionary writer and nimble thinker. We have had the pleasure of sharing conversations with one another here and here. With the release of his latest book, Team Human, Rushkoff makes the case for embracing our humanity in the face of an increasingly digital world.
Philip McKenzie: In your book Team Human, you discuss the social nature of human beings. Is modern-day influencer marketing a natural extension of that social nature?
Douglas Rushkoff: People certainly want to influence one another. It is part of being alive. As a species, we have learned over time how to make our needs known. The inflection in your voice is a way to influence. But if you reverse-engineer that tonal range and make the determination that shifts in tone are more likely to cause buy-in or acquiesce to demands, then the mimicking of human function kicks in. Using that tone in a commercial to sell things becomes neuro-linguistic programming. Then you have crossed a line. I approve of spontaneous natural social communications but imposing on them feels like manipulation.
McKenzie: If you're not paying for a product or service, then basically you are the product. We live in an era of people as a brand. How does influencer marketing impact that idea of people as a brand?
Rushkoff: After World War II there were no more colonies to take over and no more room for territorial expansion. Maintaining economic growth, a requirement of our operating system, but not necessarily economics itself, requires consumption. Industry no longer served the needs of human beings and started to look at human beings as actors who could contribute to the growth of the marketplace. Citizens became consumers and consumption the primary role and purpose in the economy. The underlying assumption in marketing is that as long as people are consuming, they're happy. Today, even as people have less money to serve as society's consumers, they can at least serve as data repositories. If you can't supply money, then you supply data. The consumer is the acted upon and influencer marketing is the mechanism that drives that action.
McKenzie: Consumption is very connected to individual goals versus collective goals. How do marketers balance those two realities?
Rushkoff: There's no shortage of individuals and individual freedom. In America, people are willing to sacrifice their well-being, social cohesion, stability and sustainability for the false notion of individual freedom. But the truth is, there is no individual. There's no such thing. It's an utter fiction. It was created in order to promote more consumption. The more people spend time with one another, the less stuff they buy. A deep connection to other humans makes you an enemy of the marketplace.
McKenzie: With so many people willingly feeding the system with data or acting as influencers, how do we deal with manipulation?
Rushkoff: We have to spend time with each other that is not digital. Civic organizations, libraries and social institutions that pre-date consumerism are all viable alternatives. If we reacquaint ourselves without digital crutches, I believe we'll be less afraid of each other. Turn off the TV and go outside and start talking to people and then people who are inside will want to come out and see what's going on. That is a type of influence that is sorely needed. It is peer-to-peer influence and it is an innately human social order.
McKenzie: Engagement is important to marketers and we use metrics to measure it, but how do we measure the quality of connections beyond likes/clicks?
Rushkoff: You cannot evaluate engagement through metrics; you can only evaluate metrics through metrics. Human beings are more complex. The ranges of interactions we have are more complex. The only people who are going to put metrics on engagement are people who are leveraging engagement for something else. They're not really looking at engagement. They're looking at customer loyalty or the likelihood of spending money or longevity of interactive contact or something like that. But that's not engagement.
McKenzie: In Team Human, you discuss people who are "spoilsports" -- they are the ones who don't opt into the system. Why are spoilsports so vital?
Rushkoff: Spoilsports call attention to the cracks in the system by not playing the game. If you work too hard at not playing the game, it could mean you're almost playing the game again. Punk is a good example of this. Was punk anti-consumer fashion or was it just a different consumer fashion? To be a spoilsport, you have to refuse to acknowledge the rules of the game at all. They don't stay on the field and instead are looking for liminal spaces between one thing and another. The liminal space is where there is value.
McKenzie: How do you use your personal influence in service of Team Human?
Rushkoff: Since the Team Human release, I have been doing events nationally and internationally. As one person, physically I don't scale like the book does. Convening live events where people gather together and experience solidarity is one of the very best things I can do. I am conscious of not making #TeamHuman into another "thing" to join. I don't want to burden the world with yet another organization. I want to be egoless with #TeamHuman, so like pollen, it spreads on its own. I want people to have the confidence they can reclaim this reality for themselves, as our society is collaborative, not competitive.
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