Digital Narcissism and Physical Life

Watch this. It’s funny.

Did you enjoy that? I sure hope so! It’s a funny angle for Microsoft to be pitching their Windows Phone 7 handsets from, but it does sort of make sense, at least to me.

I was just reading a speech by funny-man and self-confessed Twitter addict Greg Stekelman, on the narcissistic implications of Twitter, which was ironically thrown my way, via Twitter. It’s a wonderful read, which makes you think about how social media, Twitter in particular, is affecting our behaviour. Stekelman himself admits to tweeting on buses about being on buses, and being very much detached from the physical world. This, I think, is where the above advertisement’s message comes in.

We all love attention, and we all crave it. It may be the main pull of social media, which is why we do things like Twitter, and tweet about how we’re, say, sipping tea at the foot of the Taj Mahal, or why we insist on putting up inordinate amounts of photos on Facebook of our holidays to Greece. We get it. Once you’ve seen one donkey, you’ve seen ’em all. Still, somewhere in this mad frenzy of social media production, we’ve forgotten about things like our families, our Tamagochis, and our dinner that’s burning to a crisp in the oven. That’s fine, though, because you can tweet about your dinner, and create a newfangled Facebook group in memory of how Skippy the Tamagochi filled up his digital cage with poop, and asphyxiated himself with his own faeces. Still, all that’s boring. Well, I’m sure it’s fine, really, but you can’t stop yourself from living your life because of it.

Stekelman, in his speech, talks about pre-tweeting. The act of tweeting in one’s own head, when you’re unable to actually tweet. It’s something we’re all guilty of, myself included. Still, it’s this media pre-production that can make us do stupid things, and stop us enjoying what’s literally in front of us, though some odd desire to document an event you’re experiencing so your following can experience whatever it is vicariously, through you, whether or not they want to.

Case in point. Last year, I went to see one of my favourite bands, Nine Inch Nails, on their farewell tour. Nine Inch Nails are great. I love them and their music a lot. Still, it seems to be that whenever I go to gigs these days, I always take a camera and snap away like a rabid tourist (when it’s allowed, of course) so I can upload these photos to Facebook, and prove to my friends that I attended a monumental show. In a way, this is good, because everyone who wasn’t able to attend the gig gets to experience it through my photographs, and they all think I’m very cool for sharing, and I get cool points, or whatever. The downside is that I have to experience the gig through the LCD screen on my camera, while I fiddle furiously with the manual settings to try and get a good shot of Trent Reznor’s beautiful face. All in all, documenting the gig in such a way had dampened my enjoyment somewhat. With this particular gig, it was weird. It was almost like I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand at all, but instead was experiencing a reproduction of the experience. It was a meta-experience. The result? Nine Inch Nails have now gone on hiatus, and I’m quite sad that I passed up the opportunity to go nuts in front of them, because of the prospect of digital props.

Learn from my mistakes people. Don’t let social media rule your life. As I’ve said many times in this blog, social media is a fantastic, wonderful thing, and I’m not knocking it. However, when it starts impacting on your physical life to the degree where you stop enjoying physical things, you have to do something about it.


Tic Tac Shake & Share App: Stop trying to imitate the old-school.

Two things have happened to influence this article. The other day, I happened to run across two ‘popular’ apps on the App Store, and decided to give them a go. After this seemingly irrelevant event, I read this article by @faris (follow him, he’s an interesting fellow) on how to ‘do’ digital marketing. Suddenly, something just clicked.

You’re probably not aware of Ferrero Australia’s suite of Tic Tac apps, so let me give you the run-down. In the beginning, there was Tic Tac (or Tic Tac Classic, as it’s now called).

(Cheers Apptizr!)

It essentially turns your iPhone/iPod Touch into a big box of Tic Tacs, which you can shake to your heart’s content, complete with dodgy Tic Tac physics, and that classic Tic Tac sound you get when you shake the box. You choose from one of many flavours, pop the virtual lid, pour out the Tic Tacs into your mouth/bin/dog, and tap the empty box to have it magically refilled. Repeat. Think iPint, but with Tic Tacs.

After some time, Ferrero Australia decided to build on their original app, in order to gain popularity. You might call it ‘going viral’, unless you’ve read the article I refer to at the beginning of this post (you really should). Essentially, it’s the same app, with what I would call a ‘football stickers’ game bolted on. Whatever you used to be into, whether it be Pokémon cards, or Magic the Gathering, you know the deal. Gotta catch ’em all. This time, instead of giving you access to a variety of flavours of Tic Tac, like the original, the app only gives you one specific flavour, which you have to pass on (or pour on) to friends, through the power of Bluetooth. You also have a number of empty receptacles, for other Tic Tac flavours, which you have to receive from friends, who hopefully carry the same app, and a different flavour to yours. Confusing, right? This is complemented by leaderboards of the ‘most popular’ flavours, and the most successful ‘sharers’. There’s just one thing I don’t get.

Trading cards, and any other real-world activities that involve trading anything are mainly popular for a couple of reasons. Firstly, what you collect are physical objects. You can hold them, physically swap them, make your friends eat them, whatever. They have a tangible value. Call me cynical, but I don’t think a digital equivalent (at least one this simplistic) is going to cut it. Secondly, people are big on bragging. Back in the day, a full football sticker album was a near-on juvenile equivalent to the Holy Grail. That’s not even to mention to massive props anyone would get for having a million ‘doubles’, or the value ‘shiny’ stickers, cards, or Gogos Crazy Bones bring to the table. That’s just not something you can get with an iTouch App, no matter how dodgy the physics are. Indeed, something tells me that Ferrero Australia assumed that potential customers around the globe would engage in the following discussion:

“Oh, hey dude!”
“Hello, dude!”
“I’ve just downloaded this BODACIOUS app!”
“Righteous! What does it let you do, brother?”
“It lets you pretend that your expensive iPhone is a 50p box of Tic Tacs, but that is fine, because I am modest!”
“But it doesn’t let you have all the flavours! We need to trade for that to happen!”
“I am eager to engage in such a minty-fresh exchange! Where do I sign up?”
“You just need to go to the App Store, find the app, download it, wait for it to install, open it, set it up, configure the Bluetooth settings, and BOOM!”
“Easy like pie!”
“Now all the women will love us!”

Well, the last few lines weren’t accurate, but you get the general idea. Who’s willing to go through all that hassle for such an ineffectual result? Does the value of swapping virtual Tic Tacs really justify the hassle of setting up the virtual exchange to make all of this possible? The disappointing scores on the app’s leaderboards suggest it doesn’t. Things need to be fun. Failing that, they need to be real, to afford all the real benefits I described earlier.

I know Tic Tacs are a silly, and somewhat boring example, but I feel this is a valuable lesson in digital advertising. You can’t take a successful offline trend and recreate it online. Instead of trying to mimic and reproduce the ‘gotta catch ’em all’ mentality, digital marketers and advertisers should be thinking of what they can do that’s unique, that you can’t do with any other medium. Why a trading game? Why not, ‘How fast can you shake this box of virtual Tic Tacs in a minute?’ Sure, you could have leaderboards, which measure number of shakes per minute. You could hook it up with Facebook Connect, so then you could trash-talk your friends, too. It could be a competition. Everybody loves competitions (especially competitions that don’t bar new entrants for lack of friends, ahem) and it’s certainly something you can’t reproduce offline. Well, unless you have very steady hands and a stopwatch. But, yeah, just a thought.

Well, at least we did end up talking about Tic Tacs.