Bing, Bard, and other bots. The world is rushing headlong into a ChatGPT future. Yet amid the giddy optimism over boundless new capabilities lie deeper questions about how artificial intelligence is reshaping human consciousness. Update Available: The Algorithmic Self (2023) take a critical look at this emerging phenomenon.
We live in an age of anticipatory dread. Whether growing up or getting ahead, we’re conditioned to believe that faster is better, time is money, and danger lies in falling behind. Updates flourish in such a climate, whether in software, a makeover, or an online profile change. Update Available: The Algorithmic Self looks at this future-oriented compulsion and the growing automation of human consciousness in an age of artificial intelligence. Increasingly people turn to online technology for health, wealth, and happiness, along the way unconsciously making changes and compromises. Behind many of these transactions lie yearnings to get more out of life, often amplified these days by feelings of lack or impending loss. Network computing offers instant connections and enhanced capacity, with processing power serving as both means and metaphor.
Update Available is available as a free download from Apple, Barnes & Noble and other major retailers, published as an Open Access Creative Commons book. Other books by David Trend include Welcome to Cyberschool: Education at the Crossroads in the Information Age,Worlding: Media, Identity, and Imagination, and The End of Reading: From Guttenberg to Grand Theft Auto. Trend’s popular “Changing Creativity” course is taken each year by over 1000 students throughout the University of California system.
“Yes You Can,” (Sprint), “Be All that You Can Be” (U.S. Army), “Because You’re Worth it,” (L’Oréal) in “Your World, Delivered” (AT&T). You’ve seen these new ads: pitches for products or services to let you “be yourself” or “take control” of some aspect of your life. It’s a new strategy called “empowerment marketing,” based on the premise that in media savvy age people are smarter about advertising and need to be approached in a way that flatters their evolved sensibilities. As a recent feature in Your Business put it, “Traditional marketing depends on creating anxiety in the customer in convincing her that she has a need that only the product or service sold can help her fill.” In contrast, “Empowerment marketing subverts traditional marketing techniques by recasting the consumer as the hero who has the power to effect change and use the product or service being sold to achieve success.”[i]
Nice as this sounds, it is really a case of putting old wine in new bottles. The example Your Business uses is the familiar Nike “Just Do it” campaign, which doesn’t so much promote a certain shoe as much as “the message that anyone can be an athlete if they’re willing to work hard.”[ii] And indeed, this is exactly the message that appears on the first page of Nike’s current website: “Your daily motivation with the latest gear, most effective workouts and the inspiration you need to test your limits––and unleash your potential” with a fashion item lower on the page captioned “Dress like a champion.”[iii] In other words, the new empowerment advertising doesn’t really forgo conventional appeals to consumer anxiety. It simply personalizes the pitch with the lure of enhanced autonomy. The Nike ad itself sums up this contradiction perfectly in stating: “Life isn’t about finding your limits. It’s about realizing you have none.”[iv]Continue reading “Empowerment for Sale”