We’re all prone to it.
I give you an example; there is clear evidence that people are moving from watching television to spending more time online. No argument there. But then I read a post by Seth Godin yesterday, in which he drew a really tricky conclusion from this fact. His post essentially suggests that the enormous amount of work that has gone into building Wikipedia’s is the result of people switching off their television sets, in favour of contributing to worthwhile endeavours such as Wikipedia.
He said: “All those hours, all that work. Where did the time and effort come from?”
Here is my issue:
This thinking presumes that spending more time online changes people’s behaviour from entertainment seekers to contributors to worthwhile intellectual activity.
I think that the vast majority of people who used to watch Baywatch or cop shows now watch Youtube and play Warcraft or play a quiz on Facebook. Not contribute to Wikipedia.
The reason I raise this point is that I believe that Seth Godin fell prey to a fundamental marketing trap: he drew a conclusion about the world based on his own bias. Seth doesn’t watch TV. I actually believe that if there had been no TV he would probably have spent his nights reading books or writing another one. But that’s not what the majority of people would necessarily do.
Largely, people watch (or watched) television to be entertained. I’d argue that they now substitute watching TV by going online to be entertained. That’s not black and white of course; there will be people who have actually changed their behaviour and now contribute to Wikipedia or another worthwhile exchange of ideas. But in general terms, the internet has simply provided a richer, more diverse and more interactive substitute for television.
For me, it reminds me of the fact that it is easy to draw conclusions about people, their preferences and their behaviours based on your own bias, and the slippery slope it takes you on. Timely reminder for me, as I work to understand a new set of customers in my new role with Aconex.
PS:I’m not having a go at Seth here. His contribution to clear marketing thinking is second to none and I recommend anyone to read his blog/books.