If, like me, you were born before the internet was our key source of information—back when telephones had long spiral cords and televisions had remotes connected by cords, too (yes, it was the era of cords, and we thought they were pretty revolutionary)—you might recall waking each day to the newspaper.
This strange, spatially inconvenient (I mean, who could ever get the fold just right?) broadsheet of news covered all manner of topics and people. From the biggest story of the day on its front cover, to the sports news at the back, the weather, jobs, houses, and sex-hotlines, all to be found within its ink-espousing, easily torn pages.
It gave you a snapshot of local and global events, and curating your read was an exercise in origami rather than algorithms.
At this point you’re likely thinking, ‘yes, I know what a newspaper is!’ But, do we really know what we’ve lost since it has been replaced by curated online content?
Today, as I wake in my home in the inner west of Sydney, it’s Alexa who delivers my news. She tells me about the weather (in the inner west), the latest entertainment news headlines (because I always stole those pages), any news regarding my beloved Hawthorn Football Club, and a small smattering of other topics I’ve hand-selected.
I open my iPad and read my social media channels. They, too, are as curated, if not more so.
By the time I’ve got to the office, I’ve maintained a strange little filter bubble of Keeva interests. From the podcast I may have listened to on my morning run (which happens, sometimes… the run, not the podcast), to the 60s jazz in the car, the headlines on my iWatch, to the updates on my Instagram—I’ve not spent a minute being exposed to anything outside my personal interests. And, no doubt, existing in this self-directed reality is narrowing my world view.
Mine is indubitably a world of privilege. And, frighteningly, I—like many of us—can live comfortably and obliviously within it, without ever having to come face-to-face with stories, people or images outside my choosing.
These filter bubbles we exist in, as Eli Parisercalls them, are alarming for a few reasons. In his 2011 TED talk, he explains: ‘your filter bubble is your own personal, unique universe of information that you live in online. And what’s in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But the thing is that you don’t decide what gets in. And more importantly, you don’t actually see what gets edited out.’
But, I do actively choose to look outside my bubble. As part of the many stories of cancer, disease and disability, extreme poverty and environmental disasters I tell as part of my work, in my other bubble—my work bubble—I find myself constantly exposed to other lives and experiences.
This is what fuels my empathy and broadens my worldview beyond that which I personally curate. But I can’t help but wonder, with so many of us existing within the confines of our own curation, how much has empathy started to wane?
How can we possibly maintain an understanding and empathy for people outside our bubble, when we spend so little time being exposed to them?
What and who we are exposed to, matters.
We all do this. Sure, many of us do not live in a bubble of privilege, but empathy for any form of difference is critical to appreciating how others live their lives—be they rich or poor.
In the same way intersectional oppression should be considered whenever we look through the lens of feminism or ableism, racism or ageism, or any form of discrimination based on gender, sexual preference of identity—as marketers, brand managers or storytellers, I believe we now have to actively practice empathy before we can truly understand audience.
Without the broadsheet demanding we at least give a cursory thought to lives and worlds outside our own, it’s not really surprising that the gaps in our society are growing. If we are going to gain back the exposure—and the empathy—that bearing witness to a cross-section of society offers, we’re going to have to forcibly leave our bubble.
How can we do that?
Well, unless you’re the one person who seems to have more time these days, practicing empathy is something that needs to be done with some mindfulness.
It begins with the people you surround yourself with. Is there diversity—true diversity—at your boardroom table? Are a multitude of perspectives being represented, and listened to? How are you checking your biases in a genuine and meaningful way?
Experience and Exposure.
When you have identified your target audience, how much time do you spend with them? Do you really know what they care about, what they are struggling with? Do you care about them?
To truly understand a market, in many ways we have to become social and cultural anthropologists. By spending time with your target audience, you’ll just to understand them on a level that no amount of demographic research can offer.
And, how can we measure whether the insights gained through empathy are authentically engaging?
I recently had the pleasure of spending time with Elisa Choy from Strategic Data Central. She’s created a wonderful methodology which uses data to not just listen to the conversations in the room, but actually measure how engaged people are in those conversations. To prove how effective this measure is, she even chose to use it to predict the winner of The Voice, which she did successfully.
As brand strategists, measuring the impact of a brand strategy has always been a bit of a tough brief to fill, especially in those early months when the strategy is only beginning to take effect. But, thanks to the incredible capacity of analytics, not only will we be able to gauge meaningful engagement, we will quickly learn how effective our empathy insights have been.
But, beyond the impact on marketing, the human impact of a wider world view is even more critical.
As Pariser explains, we need the web and our digitised realities to open our worlds, rather than narrow them. He says, ‘We need it to connect us all together. We need it to introduce us to new ideas and new people and different perspectives.’
For if we don’t, I fear our ability to truly have empathy will end along with the broadsheet.
What are your thoughts? Has the death of the broadsheet signalled the end to a wider world view?