Marcamp/France Telecom/Orange trip report

Was at Marcamp yesterday, down on the point of oyster, just south of the city, for an afternoon of cel phones, marketing, social networking, and wireless profit and propheteering. It was good to see familiar faces (mike price, paul smith, mark plakias), as well as make some new acquaintances (evelyn rodriguez, steve portigal, amanda willoughby, pete park, asha and natalie of france telecom).

So what does the future of marketing, and mobile social marketing in particular look like? Judging by just the tone and tenor of yesterday’s gathering, there’s more happening elsewhere than there is in here in the US, even here in California.

It’s interesting. We seem to have quite a bit of confidence when it comes to net video, be it fixed or mobile. Perhaps that’s due to our culture’s role in creating and exporting the (mostly crap-in-the-head) televisual stuff that ignites the brainstem and shuts off higher order functioning… Yeah, we’re good at it. But when it comes to mobiles, we dont have the conditions or climate Europeans and many Asians have: packed cities, codes and conventions of public and private space that make texting more appealing in public than placing phone calls, cel carriers with higher bandwidth and rational pricing schemes, not to mention styling phones and greater collaboration in the development of protocols, interoperability, etc. Where Americans use digital cameras and laptops, consumers in those markets might be more likely to use a next-gen phone.

All of which speaks to the cultural specificity of communication practices, of online and mobile social groups, networking, and so on. We have different practices of performance, of self and how we reveal/conceal ourselves. We have different practices of how much attention we can tolerate being noticed texting/talking/typing/hacking/IMing/etc-ing in a public place. Different ideas of What imposes on others’ sense of public and private (I can’t stand people who will talk on a cel in a cafe. And if it’s a work call, fog-ged-about-it… I’ll conjure up ruinous thoughts and play out unspeakable and horrible punishments for the crime of bringing the conference call into a local cafe… (I thought that’s what Starf*cks was there for). …. but then I thought the same once of laptops in Cafes. Granted that was 92 in caffe Verona, Palo Alto, and I now bring my laptop into cafes, and Verona is no more.

But our point was marketing. I honestly hope that the emergence of social marketing hits a wall soon. That buzz marketers are exposed by their friends, forced into exile, entered into shameful remediation and reintegration programs, I’m thinking possibly volunteer work for local scouting organizations, youth choirs, elderhostel bookings for starters… I’m hoping that our communication with friends stands, as then last frontier approached by marketing, and as the frontier on which marketers break their heads. It just seems to me that if we lose the integrity of social interaction, everyday life, activities, everyday talk, and so on, capitalism will have gone too far. (My post on affective capitalism below is in this vein). There are limits, and our ability to resist the profit motive is perhaps weakest where it’s most critical: in the area of communication among friends. Luckily the standards of truth, sincerity, and integrity make it difficult to for marketing efforts to fake real meaning and well-intentioned interest. Intimacy here can only be referred to; “intimate marketing” is an “as if” intimacy. Marketing the intimate is something else, and I don’t really mind if people want phones that vibrate, lubricants that can be poured over salads, or bike pumps that can be used on the anatomy as well as on the inflatables… There has to be a domain of life, and of human interaction/relations, that serves us as a point from which to judge and critique commerce (as well as from which to welcome it); this zone survives only as long as it is commercial free itself.

I suspect most at marcamp would agree with this, sponsors included (after all, they’re French!). I’ve felt queasy before. And I know it’s no longer 1994 and Wired is no longer the cool publication, cyberpunk is no longer the future, and the Matrix is no longer a “consensual hallucination” (gibson in neuromancer) but a trilogy rendered to celluloid. But SF (meaning San Francisco, not Science Fiction) was home to the rebel multimedia developer community for which Marc Canter used to release his Cdroms with lingo scripts unlocked and free for the taking. SF today has changed — it’s more peninsula, more valley, and our collective bank accounts need the cash.

But then, who says that the profit motive can’t coexist with principled and critical living?

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