LISTEN -- Introduction (Part 7)

Listening can be unpleasant. Not listening can be fatal.

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(In the last post, we learned about how the open-souce economy is changing everything.)

Not that it will all be a bed of roses, of course. When you listen carefully, sometimes you get an earful.. For every enthusiast who comes up with a new design for a Lego ferry boat there are millions of unenthusiasts who wish to weigh in:, to cite one vivid example.

Or, to pick on the same poor marketer, one of the first consumer-generated ads: a spoof commercial for the subcompact Polo. It featured a Palestinian suicide bomber trying to blow up a café. But the bomb causes no damage because Polo is "Small but tough." The fake ad got 12 million hits, but VW did not send a thank-you note. It threatened a lawsuit. Nothing much came of that. You can rattle lawyers or you want, but you can't take away everybody's computer. Once again, you are not in control of your message, your image or your reputation. The Consumer is – and there are a lot of her.

Note the capital C. Because, after all, the Consumer is everyone -- which gets to a rather chilling aspect of Listenomics: the disturbing fact that it can only exist in a Brave New World. As Aldous Huxley predicted, the digital universe is essentially a total surveillance society. This can and will produce a number of chilling and undesirable effects, from info-fascism, such as China, to personal online revenge. This will be discussed in Chapter 15 ("No One is Safe from Everyone.")

For the ultimate lesson on that subject, we need look no farther than the plight of George Allen. Not long ago, he was among the frontrunners for the Republican nomination to be president of the United States. Now he is the former senator from Virginia.

He achieved this dubious distinction in the midst of his own exercise in Listenomics. This was his "Listening Tour" of Virginia, the centerpiece of his 2006 re-election race against Democratic longshot James Webb. At one stop on his tour, in rural Breaks, VA, candidate Allen paused from his listening to start a'blatherin'.

In particular, he was blathering about a young man videotaping his every word with a digital camera – a young man Allen well knew to be in the employ of the Jim Webb campaign. He had been shadowing Allen from stop to stop along the tour, on the off chance that Allen would do or say something controversial and give the struggling challenger a straw to grasp in the race.

Of course, nobody being filmed for that purpose would be stupid enough to provide ammunition for the opponent – nobody, that is, except George Allen. Instead of ignoring the video pest, Allen made direct reference to him. "This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt: 'Macaca,' or whatever his name is...." Then he called him macaca a second time. Then a third.

Nobody knows exactly why Allen should have chosen to call the guy such a name. What we do know is that the young fellow was a very dark-complected Indian-American, and that in North Africa, where his mom is from, macaca is an epithet against black people. Oh, yeah, we know one other thing: Allen blew a 16-point lead and lost the election. Because, see, here's the thing about Listenomics:

Other people are listening back.
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