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E-commerce and "I"-culture.

Changes in culture and values are subtler than changes in technology--yet they have a much more profound impact on people and businesses.

It's traditional for columnists to use the December issue to prognosticate about the coming year. Though I usually eschew such traditions, it's hard to resist when you're presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prophesy at the threshold of a new millennium.

In fact, I' d like to use this last column of 1999 to speak about something even more important than the future of broadband access or convergent internetworking. Instead, I'd like to talk about who we are and the world we are creating.

Social observers more qualified than myself have examined the impact of technology on society. They've written volumes on how the speed and ubiquity of communications has affected how people work and live. They've made predictions about globalization and disintermediation and de-industrialization.

But I tend to see technology as more of a catalyst than a reagent itself. Technology, I believe, simply enables what's already within us to be expressed more fully--rather than altering who we are inside.

Day trading is a perfect example. It's true that, without the Web, people wouldn't be able to buy and sell securities at any time of day with a click of a mouse. But the roots of the day-trading phenomenon lie much deeper within us--in our thirst for immediate gratification, in our obsession with the economically quantifiable over the inherently valuable, in our emphasis on personal gain over the highest good.

It's particularly ironic that our individualistic impulses are finding such powerful expression in a communications environment that is ostensibly making us all increasingly inter-connected. But the spirit of individualism, which firmly resists any force that would seek to constrain it, is far more powerful than the technology of collaboration. Just look at what we call our individual Web presences; they are our "domains." We will be ruled by no one but ourselves. We imagine that somehow we will achieve some sort of total freedom and with that freedom will come happiness.

This, of course, is pure denial. It's also very amusing to any real student of human nature. As Bob Dylan sang in the '70s, "You gotta serve somebody." Day traders, in pursuing personal financial freedom, become slaves to the market and the culture that surrounds it. And, based on my own informal anthropological study, they are no happier than the "wage slaves" they seek to outdo. Many of them lose, and even the winners can still manage to make themselves rather miserable in a variety of ways. I'm not passing judgement on day traders. I'm simply pointing out that it may not be the most worthwhile human activity ever undertaken, and that it's a product of our human nature--not the new technologies that enable it.

What does any of this have to do with being a communications manager in the '00s? Plenty. First of all, this "I"-culture continues to define your company's business strategy. Themes, such as mass customization and one-to-one marketing, are driven by self-consumed consumers. Your job, therefore, will likely be to support business models which satisfy the marketplace's desire to, well, get satisfaction (which brings to mind an even earlier rock anthem, doesn't it?).

Secondly, the "I"-culture affects how you manage your own department. "I"-culture technical talent is getting harder to hire and retain. It has to be coddled, coached, and very well compensated. Many tech departments are giving up on hiring altogether and are, instead, managing a variety of contractors and outsourcers. These virtual IT departments support virtual corporations over virtual networks. It will drive you virtually insane if you're not ready for it.

Most importantly, the "I"-culture affects you as an individual. This is not a generational issue. Given enough exposure to "I"-messaging in our media and among our peers, all of us can become "I"-centric. But is that really who we want to be? Is there nothing else beyond our own stock options and project deadlines and vacation plans? Can the cumulative effect of everyone seeking their own best interests really result in the greatest good?

This is a great time to be in the communications industry. There's no business I'd rather be in right now. But we have a choice. We can use our current situations exclusively to gratify ourselves. Or we can take advantage of the blessings we're being given today to make a real difference in the world we inhabit.

A great rabbi once asked three questions: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when? I think we've become very intent on the first question, at the expense of the second. And I think once we start looking at the second question, the real meaning of the third one will become clear.

Happy New Year! And keep your I's open!
COPYRIGHT 1999 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Liebmann, Lenny
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Words:825
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