Joe Murphy as Apple Advertisement – We’ve Been Played

from Roger Budney Fine Art Gallery in Carmel

Welcome to Internet Librarian 2011.  After today’s keynote address and the emphasis on entrepreneurship, it might have seemed natural to some that IL’s “business model” began to work about as well as the U.S. economy. Jenn Van Grove had to bow out of her session to be replaced by Joe Murphy.  The wireless network in the room became overwhelmed, and so your friendly, neighborhood IL bloggers who had come to hear Van Grove could not post, and all the social networking activity in the room was stymied, the perfect atmosphere for a conference emphasizing the wonders of the latest technology.  Mr. Murphy placed the sour cherry on this communicative cake when he wanted to demonstrate for the audience a potentially humorous response to a question posed to Siri, the name of the voice recognition software on the 4s iPhone Mr. Murphy waited for two hours last week to purchase. Mr. Murphy lacked a data connection to engage Siri in “conversation.”

Why was the audience subjected to Mr. Murphy shilling for Apple?  How many slides did we need to see from the screen of his 4S, sometimes working with Spotify, playing a tune from the Muppets, sometimes illustrating his love of “LivingSocial”? Maybe Mr. Murphy was “branding” his presentation, without needing encouragement from Tim Spaulding, CEO of LibraryThing, who said later in the day that “branding is a good thing; you need to know where things come from.” He has that wrong, but that is a story for another day.

Mr. Murphy seemed to be coming from a most temporary space, somewhere that would last a couple of weeks to a year (until the next IL conference?), because Mr. Murphy asserted more than once that, of course, the audience wanted to be aligned with the latest trends.  The most telling part of his push on this front — his endorsement of Google Plus (g+), manifested itself about midway into the talk, despite Mr. Murphy’s awareness that the graph for Google Plus subscribers shows a turn south.  “The past week’s stats are down,” but, according to Mr. Murphy, the audience should not abandon Google Plus.  Occasionally, we are supposed to go rogue and ignore one week’s trend lines. Mr. Murphy characterized the audience as living on the edge, on the cusp of “the latest” thingamajig, and he even had a photograph of a cliff’s edge to bring the point to a point of no return.  From Mr. Murphy’s perspective, librarians constitute different people, edgy people, the kind who know about the latest and best betas (yes, that’s a noun from Gary Price’s session).

According to Mr. Murphy, librarians are also lemmings. They latch on to the trends. If Oprah endorses some particular piece of software or CNN purchases a technology company, that is sufficient reason for librarians to jump on board. If Oprah and CNN are doing X, then, to cite Mr. Murphy’s reasoning, X is a good thing.  I wish that I were exaggerating Mr. Murphy’s statements.

When presenters at IL are not invoking linguistic violence through “killer” apps or descriptions of “World of Warcraft,” many of them express implicitly or explicitly — and sometimes with religious fervor — a Weltanschauung utterly compatible with the worst aspects of late capitalism: the rush to trendiness, to have the latest and fastest gadgets, to be seen with the right products and “cool” people who think happily of themselves as commodities.  The inability to push back on IL’s continual trend toward endorsement of the capitalism that keeps crashing results in clunky, uncomfortable language at some sessions, such as the one on “21st Century Book Recommendation Engines,” during which almost all the CEOs stumbled when trying to find a word for people who go to libraries. Almost all of them felt obliged to cite all the currently acceptable terms: patrons, users, customers. They have no problem thinking of book readers and researchers as customers, and IL has an entire session with an exclamation point on the idea (“It’s All About the Customer!”).

One more bit of evidence. Gary Price recommended that his audience pay attention to Quixey, because Eric Schmidt is an investor, and Mr. Price noted how quickly the killer apps and best betas last sometimes no more than six months, because the start-up companies and their employees often take a trip on a technological Titanic.  Mr. Price’s advice is straight out of All the President’s Men: follow the money. Pay attention (only) to companies who have well-known and/or wealthy investors, because those companies are more likely to survive.  They will survive the year or more it takes them to become untrendy, uncool, and unedgy (a.k.a., dull), and thus fodder for humor at future IL meetings. (Think about the absence of any “Second Life” session this year when the Lifers outnumbered the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf just a few years ago.)

The most recent rethinking of this line of behavior can be found in Jonah Lehrer’s “The Drive to Be Different,” a revealing article by someone not known as a critic of late capitalism, but who is now attempting to acknowledge its consequences for the kind of audience that attends IL conferences.

The real point of this paper, though, is that we can longer write off the “drive for distinctiveness” as merely a habit of insecure teenagers. Instead, it appears to be a pretty essential component of Westerners — that’s why it’s engaged in a deep psychological dialogue with rewards for food and sex. Of course, this won’t be news to retailers. They’ve long catered to our desire for uniqueness, selling us mass-produced commodities that promise to express our real, authentic selves. It’s not until we’re standing in line waiting for a cappuccino that we realize how badly we’ve been played.

5 responses to “Joe Murphy as Apple Advertisement – We’ve Been Played

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying what many of us aren’t bold enough to say publicly.

  2. I am *so* pleased to finally see a serious, thoughtful critique of The Joe Murphy Show. Great post.

  3. I would like to respectfully disagree with some of what you wrote in your post, partly because I appreciate your healthy amount of skepticism, but also because I think it is good to debate a topic like this.

    What is important about learning the latest trends is that most of our users are consumers. Our users are buying these devices, loving them, and using these apps. They come to the library, and perceive us as dinosaurs if we do not know how to he them with the devices and apps. This is also important in that it highlights information behavior in a mobile environment.

    What is information behavior in a mobile environment?

    Certainly we are not at that point yet, but it would be great to know. Mobile information behavior is most certainly changing extremely rapidly. John Seely Brown pointed out that the S curve of innovation is over, and innovation occurs on an exponential basis. I agree with this based on observation and feel it is crucial to know the latest trends so that I can support my users.

    I hate to think of librarians as lemmings, but it is true that if Oprah recommends something, there are many, many individuals who will use it, and as a result, they will be our users and we must adapt to their user behavior.

    I am using my iPad from the airport which allows me to contribute in ways I could not before with a dynamic conversation. I enjoy change, but I appreciate individuals who can help me keep up, who I can mutually learn from, like Joe Murphy, and all of the wonderful presenters at Internet Librarian.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I am not at IL this year…and your post explains many of the reasons why. After attending in 2009 and 2010 (and being disappointed both times), IL is incredibly poorly managed. I know of several people who had their presentations misrepresented in the marketing info – even after sending in a correction. (One person I know tried to send three different corrections, and each time the IL organizer got something else wrong. Joe Murphy was on each of those email messages…and said nothing.)

    I’ve thought for a few years now that Joe Murphy isn’t good for much other than standing up and talking about what the “kids these days” are going to be using and or doing. I about gave myself whiplash with all the eye-rolling I did during his prezi (UGH!) at the Elsevier 2011 Digital Library Symposia. Funny thing is that I am one of those supposed “kids” and I think he is out of touch!

    Keep in mind that IL is run by a FOR PROFIT company.

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