Redistributing power in the new connected ecosystem

Guénaëlle Gault
Global Head of Digital
Kantar Public
Guenaelle.Gault@kantar.com

We are on the brink of a digital rebellion, in which consumers might increasingly reject many of the ways in which technology has come to rule their lives. It’s been a long time brewing.

El Dorado - Disruption
Our relationship with digital began with El Dorado. It promised so much, we almost couldn’t believe it. Free access to culture and information; we could order a pair of shoes at midnight from our bed; and if we had no sense of direction, we just had to follow a blue ball on a screen. We could now chat with friends, and with their friends. We could express ourselves without waiting to be asked our opinion. Great!

As “platforms” developed online, we vaguely wondered what business model these companies were using, but were so happy and busy that we let the platforms shape the web.

Then we realized that digital was no longer a new channel – a different ecosystem. It had become the ecosystem. Then we talked about disruption.

Disruption? As philosopher Bernard Stiegler says, this is a word for “being late”. We suddenly realized that we were all late. That's why, since then, we have been talking about digital transformation as a necessity.

Meanwhile, Facebook has bought WhatsApp and Instagram, and Microsoft has strengthened ties with LinkedIn and Skype…

Schizophrenia - Cognitive Dissonance
Suddenly, we are in a time of schizophrenia, a form of cognitive dissonance. We realize that digital brought us a lot, but that it took a lot from us, too, like our data and our attention. And we realize that some of these companies, these platforms, contribute little in taxes. But it is too late to do much about it, because we cannot manage without them. The result for us is anxiety, especially as we look to the future and see artificial intelligence on the way. Look at Amazon’s recent purchase of a home security and camera company. Soon, Amazon will be in our homes, even when we’re not there. And we will likely worry even more.

Resistance
How are we reacting to all this? Resistance behaviors are beginning to appear, strengthened by organizations seeking to keep these platforms on the straight and narrow. The European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, has become a guardian of European consumers, who themselves are downloading ad blockers and looking to “Digital Detox”. Resistance is becoming stronger.

Regulation
But we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water; digital progress has given us much that we now don’t want to be without. Logic suggests we must therefore regulate. We are becoming more judicious in how we behave as digital individuals, and businesses, too, are beginning to understand that just because something is technically possible doesn’t mean they should do it. Think of a brand using programmatic advertising to retarget us for weeks with a product or service – even if we’ve already bought it. Digital can be used in a more mature, more reasoned, more targeted and therefore smarter way. The notion of the ecology of attention will gradually emerge to replace that of the economy of attention. The platforms will have to change, as they are already starting to do. And institutions are also starting to regulate, as with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Reinvention
But change can go much further; we can fundamentally change the paradigm. At first the web was libertarian, it was alternative, it was free. It has gradually become akin to the oil industry. Just as the oil industry has commoditized the Earth, digital capitalism has started to commoditize humans. We understand that when a service is free, then we are the product – or at least our data is the way we pay for it. But a silent revolution is being prepared as people, individually and collectively, are starting to overcome and bypass this system. They are consuming more carefully, getting together to produce their electricity or run yard sales, and this kind of effort is going to gather momentum. Technology, such as blockchain, will allow them to organize without an intermediary. The next revolution will make sure consumers, currently mere targets of brands, are soon very likely to become their main competitors.

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