Working in the ad business, one of the most important things I learned was the revolution created by a technology called POS, i.e., point-of-sale systems. They are so familiar now that we hardly pay attention to them; but the appearance of cash registers and credit card readers linked to retailer mainframes destroyed a familiar paradigm. Manufacturers would commission ad agencies or market research firms to do research. The data were analyzed and used to justify marketing strategies. By the time the strategies were implemented, and the new products, packaging and publicity were ready to announce to retailers what they would be selling next year, a year or more had already gone by. But now thanks to POS, the retailers knew every single day, day after day, what was selling and what was not. They'd look at that year-plus-old data and say to the manufacturers, "You are so behind the curve." Add the fact that the sheer proliferation of new products made retailer shelf space the biggest bottleneck to getting any new product to market. Whoops! The manufacturers weren't calling the shots any more.
So, here we have anthropologists. If they do their classic schtick, the go off somewhere for a year or two. They come back, write up, sweat through academic publication cycles. By the time their observations make it into print, they are, five, six, maybe seven years old. Meanwhile, a new breed of tech-savvy entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the Internet and other new technologies to gather and spread information a whole lot faster than that. And they may be reshaping culture faster than anyone can keep up, let alone us sloth-like anthropologists.
Take a look at this piece from Advertising Age
, an interview with Bob Wazik, the "inventor" of flash mobs. Ask yourself how anthropology stays relevant in this new world.
Long dureé, big ideas? Maybe. What I saw when I did my fieldwork on pop culture five years ago? Forget it.
Looking forward to your responses