Of Rarefied Ghettos and Delicate Anthropological Dances

By The Luddite, Columnist, Business Today

Reports have surfaced of tech giants moving to communities where they are – surprise, surprise – unwelcome.

I will not name names; that would be akin to presuming said parties are presumed guilty before proven innocent. (You cannot be judge and jury on motive. Can you?)

The point is, is that it’s surprising. None of the usual rah-rah about how the invasion – sorry, installation – of multi-billion dollar tech oligo-players will benefit the community, create jobs, gentrify the neighbourhood, cause the rabid mushrooming of hipster, artisanal coffee places. No.

Instead, the news has been met with antipathy with a dash of hostility.

Local residents – whose families have lived in these neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods typically associated with crumbling edifices, laundry hanging out to dry with broken marriages and graduates in a rush to be anywhere but there – have set up committees.

Yes. Committees. Neighbourhood and resident committees, the weapon of choice when there is a frisson of distrust mixed with resentment – a bitter cocktail – designed to raise an almighty stink to keep the interlopers out.

Though the hardened among us may sigh in knowing cynicism and anticipate these tech giants employing battalions of political lobbyists and well-coiffed and perfumed PR specialists to soothe local tensions – maybe even do a mock-cheque presentation upon the donation to a local charity – the point is perhaps being a tech giant drunk on profit-fuelled power has prevented managers from understanding a basic lesson.

Tribes.

The power of the tribe is not to be underestimated.

Except, in the case of the tech giant so desperate to win over more consumers – even the ones who simply cannot afford or do not see the use of certain products – that particular tribe of elites has no sense of community or even some noble intention of communal good.

No. For tech giant elites who think in terms of seven figures, the lingua franca is competition, not communal.

Commentators have suggested tech giants hire anthropologists to understand consumers better.

Wait, what?

“Understand consumers?” (Cue two-fingered air-quotes gesture.)

Shouldn’t it be ‘to understand people’ better?

There are seven billion of us. Are we each one of us that easily categorisable?

When the language is seven-figured competition, consumers are stripped of the unique strands of the human condition, and are, instead, just a statistic. A marketing target.

But, all is not lost.

It seems the idea of going back to the nineteenth century study that is anthropology with which to better formulate winning business strategies – for tech giants, anyway – is gaining in traction. Household tech conglomerates are said to be quietly seeking counsel from studious observers of tribes in the Amazon, as in the jungle, not the, erm, Silicon Valley terrain.

After all, trust is something that cannot be monetised, and so, when there is the loss of trust, how does one explain to investors that one’s share price has dropped because one has been accused of mistreating factory workers on the shop floor on Black Friday or because one has sold user data without declaring that was the original business intention?

That, my friends, is something you cannot pay a coiffed, perfumed professional to answer.

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