Creativity Under Threat?

Mark Hurst

6 min read

They’ve all got it in for me.

Christopher Wylie is a data scientist. He’s also the millennials’ whistleblower.

But if I say ‘Cambridge Analytica’ you’ll suddenly know who he is.

Brand Fame? Actually, it’s brand infamy. And Christopher thinks Facebook has got it in for me, and you. And all of us. He may well be right.

When I was a kid my bedroom was right next to the front door; and the letterbox.

During my childhood, I used to wake in the morning and tread a warm carpet of direct mail in the hallway of mam’s little cottage in the northeast.

Unless it was my birthday and I was sifting through it for a card with a fiver in.

Today when my little boy gets up (his bedroom is next to the hallway in London) he doesn’t enjoy the same experience.

There is no junk mail in the morning. No carpet. Nothing.

When the doorbell rings he’s thrilled the ‘post-a-man’ is coming.

But that’s because he knows it’s a package from Amazon with a shiny new die-cast car. Or the Ocado ‘cabbage van’ with a new stock of avocados for his dinner.

He’ll never enjoy the sheer encyclopaedic knowledge of the daily junk mail feed, the sound of colourful sales messages dropping on the mat like a flock of seagulls have flown overhead.

Until that is, he gets his first phone.

All he knows so far is that our home phone – a 70’s original with a dial he’ll never, ever understand the workings of – sometimes rings with a robot on the other end.

He’s already annoyed that it’s tied to the wall. The whole thing is just so confusing for a 3-year-old.

But when he comes of age he won’t be confused anymore, he’ll know what to think because he’ll have a lot of his thinking done for him.

He’ll find he has a letterbox in his pocket. Facebook is the biggest ad agency on the planet. And he’ll be bombarded with direct mail every minute of the day from Google. (The biggest media company on the planet.)

And this is what Wylie is on about. The need for regulation of social media. Yes, in the olden days our addresses and demographic details were data packaged and sold off to direct marketing houses. But today, data capture goes unchecked.

And we were only exposed to DM once a day.

These days we are Direct Mailed every few minutes, the stress of it hasn’t been fully measured yet, but we do know that it’s now a two-way street. You are pushing your data – movements, choices, behaviours – right back through the letterbox in real-time and guess what? You’re being data packaged and sold again, but with a big difference. It’s big data.

Today you’re being sold as a living breathing media product.

People are being mediated. Instead of ‘the people’ receiving mediated messages through the medium of our choice – we have become the medium.

There is also an issue with the sheer speed, weight and scale of the messages; the prompts and the nudges. In the olden days, it was called advertorial, now it is native advertising and there’s so much more of it, i.e. you have a harder time telling whether it’s real or advertising.

It looks real, it happens fast. So it’s hard to tell what’s real or not. Reality is being twisted.

Cambridge Chris likens the way our personas are being sold to the sex trade or slavery – people are becoming products.

I’m not sure how far you can call a person a slave if they want to be enslaved, to have their purchase choices made for them, but add in Simon Sinek’s comments on how smartphones can be as addictive as gambling and alcohol for developing teenagers and you get a pretty scary mix. Millennials

But will it, as Chris says, stifle creativity?


Creativity, by its very nature, lives outside of all of this marketing and socio-political tomfoolery. In fact, creativity thrives outside (and inside) and throughout all of it.

Because data is facts, not truth.

Creativity is logic to magic – working off truth and insight.

Data is not a threat to creativity, but it has re-commoditised media.

Because just like the old school junk mail, it’s ‘money in, more money out’.

It’s transactional advertising.

Give enough people a nudge and you’ll get a measurable result.

But probably best not to use it for elections; there are laws against that.

And thankfully, one of the side effects of the scandal will be the quick realisation that there should be a lot more legislation around smartphones and social media when it comes to children.

Facebook should not be allowed to open its Messenger app to 8 yr olds, it should not be data packaging teens and the smart thing to do is not to give a smartphone to someone who is under age in the first place. Or even allow them in schools.

Sadly, this won’t be a popular view right now – or in the near future. But thankfully it will be when Arthur is of an age for a smartphone. Because by then there will be two generations of stressed-out smartphone socialites banning their kids from using them – and living in public on Facebook.

However, while all this tomfoolery is going on, here’s a message from this child of the 70’s to that child of the 10’s, there will always be a place in our hearts for very special, magical, enthralling direct mail.

It just won’t be every day. Or every minute.

And when you receive it, in just a second it will be memorable for years.

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Issue 2