People who work in the e-commerce industry are an interesting bunch. When I’m at a conference (like IRCE last week) or at a social event with colleagues, I often think… if an outsider (alien?) arrived, would they have a clue what we’re talking about? Would they be able to follow the rapid fire dialogue, the buzz words, the cavalier attitude towards technology? We live online. We have multiple (at this moment for me, more than 10) browser windows open. We’re competitive shopping five sites at once, two of which are via smartphone. We’re reading, reacting, responding and sharing all in a heartbeat. Not that this behavior is unique to those of us in the online retail industry, but our acceptance and tolerance for it (dare I say enjoyment of it) is probably somewhat unique. We “get it”. Or do we?
I recently had the opportunity to see screenings of two documentary films as part of the Seattle International Film Festival, each of which not only forced me to slow down and focus (rare these days) but caused me to think a bit bigger and deeper about the broader impacts of the internet, e-commerce, online privacy and digital disruption. Both of these films are highly relevant to anyone who works in the online retail industry and both are well worth watching as an entertaining (and sometimes very disturbing) view of the internet monster that plays such a critical role in our careers and lives.
The first, Out of Print, directed by Vivienne Roumani focuses on the digital disruption of the print (specifically book) industry. Out of Print moves swiftly (the film is only 55 minutes long), but in a short time manages to weave together the complex economic, ethical, behavioral and intellectual impacts that digital publishing is making on our world. While I’ve ready many articles about the topics covered in this film, seeing them discussed on the screen by business leaders, authors, publishers, academics, thought leaders, scientists and ordinary citizens; hearing the staggering statistics, listening to high school students brag about never needing to read a book (just Google it to get the highlights of the story) left me with an amplified sense of both the good and bad of e-books and other digital advancements. While there is not a lot of “new” subject matter in this film, it does an admirable job of of capturing the intricacies of the issues raised. And a bonus: Meryl Streep narrates, and even though she doesn’t say a lot, her voice drives the tone of the film effectively.
The second film, Terms and Conditions May Apply is a must-see for anyone who (like me) is fascinated by the recent NSA whistle blowing news. The film, directed by Cullen Hoback was obviously made well before last weeks’ headlines appeared, but it plays as a powerful companion piece to current events. The film focuses on the “deal with the devil” all of us make when we willingly check the “terms and conditions” boxes on the sites of services that we can’t seem to live without: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc.
It’s no surprise that few people, if any actually read (let alone understand) the miles of legalese contained in these policies. No one seems to care about the staggering levels of permission we grant these companies to collect, use and share everything we leave behind. The implications of this ignorance are brought to light in a well edited 79 minutes of humorous, jaw dropping and disturbing examples. A comedian quotes a line from a violent movie on Facebook and winds up with an armed SWAT team at his apartment door. Search records of a crime drama writer doing research peg him as a potential murderer. A young European tourist tweets about “destroying America” with his vacation partying and finds himself held as a terrorist suspect.
While most of us routinely shrug our shoulders about the topics of internet privacy and big data by claiming that we “have nothing to hide”, this film clearly points out the escalating controversies over security vs. privacy and the importance of examining and debating these long standing issues in the context of a digitally driven world.
Neither of these films are likely to be available in wide release for a while, but I recommend that you seek them out as important food for thought. Those of us that work in e-commerce need to recognize that the world that we work in, and that our customers shop in, is complex. As we enthusiastically embrace and champion the beloved conveniences of the digital age, we owe it to ourselves and to our customers to balance that with some good healthy debate about how these conveniences can enhance or destroy our way of life. In other words, we need to really “get it”.
Ironically, recent events may be getting all of those people who never read a book anymore to re-visit their behavior. As I write this, sales of 1984 are up over 400% in the last week. Probably driven by the digital version.