Timeless Time

A 2011 interview with William Gibson got me thinking a little about the nature of time and perception. Gibson’s books (Neuromancer, The Difference Engine, and Count Zero) explore the impact of technology and alternate realities caused by technology on humans.

While often quite dystopian, his worlds raise his reader’s consciousness by essentially “hacking” what we would perceive as “normal” and offering potential alternatives in the form of worlds and people that struggle with the chaos and never-ending change wrought by technology and society.

In the course of my meditation on his work I was struck by his mention of how the steam engine shook people’s view of time and distance, causing widespread wonder and unease as centuries of accepted travel times and methods were overturned. Where once people traveled at an average pace of 2 miles per hour they now could be carried along at 15 miles per hour without doing anything other than purchasing a ticket.

Black Steam Train Meiji Train

This and subsequent improvements in engineering and technology dragged people closer together and accelerated the pace of human interactions. As a result, language become more streamlined, matching the new demands for communication to be as efficient as travel.

With the change in language and technology came a change in the sense of time and movement that people experienced. The “new normal” was a world with diminishing quiet spots and a sense of living in a linear, streamlined world, with an uncertain future.

Contrast that with a past that consisted of fixed traditions and technology where people were the benchmark, not machines. The subtleties of language and the importance of nuance in relationships were richer in the past because they had to be, since people relied upon each other instead of machines to produce the necessities of life. It was timeless time.

With this accelerated time that we live in, working longer hours with fewer rest periods, and with schedules that seem to expand but never contract; only the wealthy and those willing to give it all up have access to those quiet spots that once filled the globe.

To be sure, we live longer and healthier lives (though not by much and in some places, not anymore) but to what end? Are we able to control and enjoy the time that we have?


I engaged in a lively and interesting debate online (via Facebook) about the pros and cons of working from home (aka, WFH). It centered around Yahoo’s announcement that, effective this June, employees will no longer be able to work remotely.

Those who were against a WFH policy felt that it promoted slacking and disrupted a cohesive team environment. Those in support of a WFH policy (and that includes me but I do believe there have to be some standards) felt that it flew in the face of the same technology that companies like Yahoo provide and that requiring people to return to a 20th-century work environment was a morale killer of the first degree.

A few made comments that working remotely reduced accountability and performance, though no one could provide any data to support that assertion but they were quite emphatic about this nonetheless.

That last point got me thinking that the reason why some don’t support a WFH policy is that either require having people around just so that they can be productive (which sounds like an issue in itself) or that they do not trust that people outside the office are working as hard as they are (but is working hard working smart?).

So really the issue around a WFH policy is not so much WFH but ensuring that goals and performance measurement is transparent so that everyone, inside and outside of the office, can see everyone’s contributions. Actually, a real-time ticker of success (showing revenue contributions, bug fixes, etc. would be a powerful motivation and accountability tool).

Of course, if a company doesn’t have a valid measuring toolkit and its goals are not well thought-out, then maybe everyone should come into the office…to pick up their last check and head to greener pastures.

May I Sponsor Your Battle-Axe?

World of Warcraft is one of the most popular MMO’s ever. With over 11,000,000 players as of 2010 its membership fees alone can generate $800,000,000 annually in gross revenue (assuming player retention of one year – I have no data on this). Average playing time is just over 22 hours per week (compared to the average 36 hours per week that people spend working).

More impressive is that the game itself helps forge virtual relationships through its use of kinships and team play. These relationships become as real as those forged in what some call “meat-space” (i.e., real life). Friendships and deeper relationships have been made and broken in its virtual halls, with gameplay spilling over into non-virtual time due to pre-login planning and scheduling, post-event analysis, and other activities that support this virtual life.

There are other games too, each with their own passionate players who expend the same number of hours (Lord of the Rings Online, EVE, Age of Conan, Dark Age of Camelot, and, Everquest) in their quests to defeat evil or grow their personal empire. As Seth Godin said in one of his TED talks, our world now consists of tribes of our own making, each with its own rules and culture; and each one a fundamental part of their members lives.

For marketers, this is an amazing but yet perilous opportunity to engage with people who live in these worlds.

Amazing because the opportunity to co-brand and even engage with people who are providing undivided attention in a cradle-to-grave environment means that every engagement has a higher probability of resulting in a warmer response to that effort. By tying a brand to a much-loved activity, companies can forge longer-lasting relationships.

It is also perilous because one mis-step can result in serious backlash from tribe members unless that brand is well schooled in both the ethos and standards of that world. Ham-fisted ad placements, intrusive messaging, or incompatible offers will shut out that brand for good (“Hey WoW players, stop by Askander Hammerfist’s tavern for more information on how we can save you money on your auto insurance…”)

The next frontier of brand engagement will be when smart marketers and willing MMO’s connect and work together to create opportunity for their members and partners.

One day you may be swinging a battle axe sponsored by Nike!

No Rush to Watch

It’s great that media content can be consumed in a variety of ways which enable us to choose the time and place for this consumption. Of course there are some silly restrictions (Hulu won’t let you watch their content if you’re outside the US…unless you mask your IP address and Apple TV makes you watch a movie within 24 hours of rental or it disappears…and Apple TV doesn’t have a hard drive…) but basically we are no longer chained to our televisions at a set time (I can remember people adjusting their schedules around when Friends was on TV…yep, I just dated myself!).

With the sense of urgency taken away from the television and movie-viewing experience though, I find that I can live with less. Meaning, that with the knowledge that I can watch a given show anytime I want, I actually increase the odds that I will just forget about it and spend my time doing more meaningful things.

I wonder if this is just me or is this happening with others as well? Perhaps technology is freeing us in ways that we don’t even recognize.

Forrester Research Misses the Point

AdAge Magazine quoted a report by Forrester Research on FourSquare in which it identified primary FourSquare users as male, educated, and between the ages of 19 and 35. 4% of US online adults use FourSquare. Forrester and AdAge miss the point with his data, assuming that the quoted demographic will remain frozen when, in fact, this is often the avant-garde group that acts as the point of the spear for new and exciting technologies and social media platforms.

This of course also misses the value of FourSquare in connecting users to businesses and to each other. Also, the data collected by FourSquare is of considerable value to businesses and to its users and will no doubt be a vital part of FourSquare’s evolution as location-based marketing and the power of technology is embraced by growing numbers of new demographics.

One final point, Facebook also started this way and is now one of the largest and most-used social media platform. Like prophets in their own time, new ideas and platforms are often ignored or cursed.

App Inventor for Android

Google’s decision to allow Android users to create their own apps is exciting! By allowing their users to create their own apps, they help to build stronger relationships with them and their product,  increasing user retention. One of the key challenges for cell phone providers like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, is retaining customers and any move by a company to increase customer engagement with a product or service is a smart move indeed.

This is also a great way for Google to differentiate itself from Apple which takes on an Orwellian coolness in its customer relationship. By comparison, Google’s more democratic initiative opens is an open challenge and one that could well pay off.

Apple and China

Today’s article in the New York Times about Apple’s strategy in China got me thinking about China’s allure to businesses around the world. Ever since the 17th century, the West has fantasized about the huge Chinese market and what it could do for their companies.

However, the fact is that China remains a difficult place to do business primarily due to the lack of transparency and due process. As long as that is lacking, businesses will have to factor in risks due to a sudden shift in government policies which can be domestic in nature and hard for foreign businesses to divine.

Getting back to Apple, though, they have a great shot at penetrating the market due to Apple’s emphasis on alluring quality and design. Based on black market consumption, there is clear interest. They just need to proceed carefully.