New Views

09 Sep 2005|Davis Masten

It’s odd what makes an innovation suddenly move from niche to mass. So often it is unplanned and unexpected events.

Cheskin has been actively involved for years in helping consumers use digital tools to tell their side of an experience. Even before they hit the market, we believed tools like camera phones, PDAs, blogs, and podcasts had immense power to convey a new, more intimate and individualized point of view. But our efforts paled in comparison to the stimulus provided by recent events, in particular the London bombing and Hurricane Katrina.

Sites like MetroBlogging include posts and photo links from residents of New Orleans that add a personal dimension CNN can’t convey. Press releases announcing aid are countered by real time videos showing no relief in sight. Katrina is the most recent and obvious example, but on a cable channel a few weeks ago, I saw British anti-terrorists surrounding a London flat. The most remarkable thing to me was that the news video came from a cell phone. Last week, I heard on the radio that a flasher was caught by a camera phone on a NY subway. The photo documentation made the infraction very clear. Some months back, a car jacking was foiled when the criminal saw that he was being recorded on the victim’s camera phone.

I hate that it’s negative events that are giving cultural visibility to new uses of these tools, but I do believe that we are all learning more about each other’s experiences and what gives them meaning. Also, thanks to these catalyzing events, I believe digital tools will become more ubiquitous in their use as people see how others are using them. It is not a big step to go from using a phone camera to document a newsworthy emergency (citizen journalism) to using it to express to a company how a product or service behaved badly (digital ethnography). In the end, I think both uses have the same goal: to fix what’s broken and make life better for us all.

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