How Tech Gimmicks Survive Rigor Mortis

Or, When Companies, Computers and Cultures Collide.

better cheese mouse trap caricature by laughzilla

Companies whose market exist primarily online like to believe that they are either making the most efficient and optimal use of available technologies, or that that are well on their way to doing so.

The truth, however, is that the absolute majority of them are still stuck in the 20th century quicksand trap of tech moving faster than their people, and with strong suction, it is eventually pulling down what might otherwise be successful businesses.

For those of you old enough to remember the heady days of the first Internet bubble that expanded so rapidly in the 1990s, you may recall a little-loved app known as email.

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The humble email application actually went back much farther than the ’90s, but it first hit its commercial stride in that decade, when a sea of businesses started to push it as the next best form of correspondence, and as the easy gateway to get yourself onto the so-called Information Superhighway. Apparently, people in the ’90s were too unintelligent to just call it the Internet, even though it had already been ~ 20 – 30 years since its inception as a DARPA project.

Email was so great, people were told, that it could do everything … maybe even including vaccuum your floors, wash your clothes, and take care of your kids when you had to travel for business. Oh yeah, and it could let you keep in touch with your 97 year old great-grandmother, even though she could not type and did not own a computer.

Companies all over the map chomped at the bit, reassuring themselves that their young, hot-shot execs knew what they were doing. Some illustrious people in the hi-tech industry even referred to email as the “killer app”.

Heck, even I jumped on the email bandwagon, building an email list that rivaled the biggest internet publishers of the day.

And then when the spammers killed email’s attractiveness, people just migrated more and more away from the Inbox and onto other areas of the ‘Net.

Naturally, the advent of social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have grown more appealing to people who wish to remain informed, but not barraged with junk emails. Social Media works in many ways that email could not, mainly because of its inherent characteristics, like the intermediary platform on which its messages are relayed. This allows much better filtering, reporting and penalties for abusers who still bother to send virtual garbage to random people.

Sadly, email has failed to be the harbinger of a new dawn for mankind, despite all of its best intentions, and all of the hard work and amazing technology of the anti-spammer community. The filters simply are not good enough. The unwanted solicited emails still get through. The constant need to supply an email address to register for accounts online is clumsy at best. Ugh.

And guess what? Social media is more and more filled with junk that slips through into your ‘stream’ … what once seemed like pristine waters now seems increasingly like just another cesspool of unethical marketing tricks; a veritable exhibit of the Worst Practices of Marketing which probably deserves its own form of annual awards, like the Razzies do for the worst of Hollywood each year around the Oscars.

But there are some shining examples of the good, the few, the ethical marketeers. And they’ll do anything … within the rules … to get in front of your face.

And surprise, surprise … email still lives. In fact, in some ways, it’s even making a comeback. That’s right, the inbox is seeking revenge. And the secret sauce to that recovery is once again embedded in the very heart of companies who adhere to the leading edge of corporate communications culuture.

Whether you use email as your main form of company communiques, or whether your IT or Execs have pushed you onto a social network, there is one thing you can rest assured of. And that one thing is ; As long as you live in a society that keeps convincing itself that it is important to communicate with as many people as you can, all the time, you will be subject to more grand and pompous statements about the future of chatter online.

So watch out for that next tempting mouse trap … because the cheese you see on it may taste great, but taking it may give you a serious headache … or far worse.

Full disclosure: Beyond being a punster with pens and computers, Yasha Harari has worked for a number of internet, media and political organizations in the U.S., Europe and Israel.