Networks are our networth: Notes from a hotel room

Sizzlingstringsthefabulousguitarsm I am in Toronto.  I am working on a powerpoint presentation that needs to be perfect before I go to sleep tonight.  I have to present it in the morning to a roomful of high powered marketers.

It’s hard to hear myself think.  My room is on the 4th floor of a court yard and there are a couple of maples in the courtyard which are now host to 200 starlings who are now debating something at length and at volume.  It is deafening.

I think  the debate goes like this, "Now?  How about now?  What about now?"  These starlings have more sense than to spend the winter in Toronto.  Not when flights to the south are so cheap.  And there are other reasons for leaving.  The chief of these is that many Canadians don’t do dynamism with gusto.  What did Peter Ustinov say about Toronto, that it was "New York City as if run by the Swiss."  (And I think Bjork says something like, "I thought I could organize freedom.  How Scandinavian of me."  I believe she meant "Canadian.")

Personally, I blame the likes of Margaret Atwood.  You could get everything Ms. Atwood knows about the well springs of contemporary culture into a phone booth and still have room left over for roughly a dozen college students.  The lit crit crowd has an embargo on certain kinds of thinking and Toronto appears to be engaged in a building frenzy, as if a dynamic culture could be imposed in the form of daring new architecture. 

But as we know, this is not where dynamism comes from.  Wishing will not make it so.  You can not build an opera house and rebuild the musem (as they are now doing) and hope to inspire (or license) dynamism.  The city that needs encouragement (or approval), well, this is really too desparate to think about.  But of course if you want proof, note that the Roy Lanham (as above) has dominated Top 40  radio here in Canada since early July.  We may think of this as the triumph of Canadian content.

I don’t think dynamism-loathing applies to the marketers I am talking to tomorrow.  At least, it better not.  I am arguing that we are seeing a fundamental shift in the consumers under, say, 35.  The groups to which they belong are now much larger, more flexible, more communicative.  Indeed, they are less like groups and more like networks of a certain kind.   The trick will be to peruade my audience of the marketing implications that follow from this argument.

I shall also argue that the new fluidity of the social group is reproduced within the individual.  People under 35 tend to build and sustain some quite complicated identity portfolios, with lots of diversity and lots of change.  If the group has become a network, so has the self become a network…and whopping great marketing implications follow from this too.

Anyhow, that’s the argument.  But if my audience are not buying dynamism as the organizing fact of contemporary life, they are not likely to smile upon my effort to suggest that the dynamism of the whole is also the dynamism of the part and the part’s part, as it were.  The broadest polity, the groups within it, and the selves within these groups, all are fluid, multiple, changeable and a lot like those Starlings debating their departure time, in constant, noisy contact. 

But, hey, what I’m telling you for?  I have to finish the damn thing.  Pray for me. 

post script: so it’s now 10:30 and thanks to those geniuses at Microsoft, I am still at it.  Twelves slides simply disappeared from the deck, and I have only now reconstructed them. 

But I just took a wee TV break and remembered why marketing can be fun in Canada.

I found myself looking at an ad for  It opens with a group of office workers standing around the water cooler.  One of them says, "well, it’s your cow" and everyone laughs. 

Now this is an act of major mischief.  The line comes from a book written by John Kenneth Galbraith about his boyhood on a farm in Ontario.  In Scotch, John tells us about the time he was sitting on a fence with a girl.  A cow and bull began to copulate in the field before them, and John, persuasive even in his youth, said, "I wish I can do that."  His companion replied, "well, it’s your cow." 

Ok, back to work.  Pray for me more. 

8 thoughts on “Networks are our networth: Notes from a hotel room

  1. Adriano

    Who the hell is Margaret Atwood and why is she in my city? Don’t you think the new opera house looks like a big box store?

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  3. Aldo

    I have it good authority that the audience, bought the argument. Now they (we) have to figure out what the hell we’re going to do.

  4. Liz

    I used to live where the power was unreliable, and developed good file saving habits as a result.

    Each time you make a new slide, save the whole thing under a different name. I use a short name for the drafts (example here would be mark1, mark2, mark3, mark4) and so on. Then when I am done, I call the whole thing markfinal, and throw out all but the last version.

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