I first posted this essay at mediacenterblog.org as part of an ongoing discussion on trust in the media, but it applies here. In fact, it applies MUCH more here, because here is where we're going to take action.
My Avon district sales manager sat next to me at my kitchen table two years ago. She wore soft caramel lipstick to match her Asian print jacket, a shade just two tones shy of her sculpted bouffant.
"Birdie," she said, her index pointing first to her lips, then mine, "every woman buys lipstick. Your new Avon business manual shows you how to sell the exact type of lipstick your customer needs. Here, take a look."
I glanced at the open blue binder, at a chart where you can match up hydration versus long-wearing versus affordability, ingredients, lifestyle, you name it. Each of the core Avon lipsticks was dissected, outlined, splayed on the page like an alien anatomy diagram. I nodded my head as if I beheld the sacred Tibetan Book of the Dead. I made a mental note to memorize these facts FIRST! And I did. I did.
Two years later, I can still cite the Lipstick Mantras, spill them into the palm of a questioning customer. Avon thinks Avon Knows Best, but let me tell you a secret: My customers know a hell of a lot more. I learned what lipsticks have staying power, which leave tell-tale stains on crisp white men's collars, which provide the most bang for the buck. My new Lipstick Mantras are based on my customers' needs. Not everything Avon needs to know or ought to know can be found in a focus group.
But I'm one lone Avon Lady wolf, howling at the internet moon. Even when one voice has an audience, it's easy to discount that voice. Even with multiple voices, if these voices occur at different times and disparate places and in varying manners, there's a diminished impact. It's easy, simple, for these disconnected voices to be shushed, swept under the bed. Focus and large numbers are what has impact.
The last big revolution with information and the media was Google, where information is collected and organized in specific patterns by popularity so that Google users can quickly find the most pertinent information for which they seek. But Google is passive, doesn't push any organization's agenda, any one person's thoughts. The next big revolution will be to actively direct and organize the formation of the information and the issuance of that information to a particular time, to bring focus and attention. There's power in numbers.
Already, there are some blogging coalitions that provide some kind of focus. All of these groups gather bloggers who share some interest - be it an anti-war agenda, a love of a particular musical artist, an opinion on abortion, the list goes on to include environmental groups, political groups, etc. By sharing a concern or compliment, bloggers can combine their individual power into something bigger, something with teeth, a snarl. This is the new media version of letter-writing campaigns. There are also incredible Social Networks such as MySpace and LiveJournal where word of mouth travels faster than wildfire. This has a domino effect, amplifying one person's yowls with the Amens of thousands.
But imagine something even more powerful than discreet coalition entities and roving social networks! For example, imagine that some non-profit Meta Organization was formed with the task of identifying major concerns and issues to particular groups who have a presence on the internet through blogs and other forms of comment and criticism. The mission of this non-profit would be to provide focal points involving temporal placement for issues and concerns of organized and unorganized groups that have not had the means to collectively focus their opinions in such a sharp and global way. It should be a temporal focus, because everything happens in time, and you are harnessing power, focusing the comments and opinions of large numbers just like light, in one place in one time. Like light, it would cause heat, shine brilliance, get attention.
Imagine if this Meta Organization had no personal agenda outside of organizing focus. Imagine if it selected a day that month where it was announced that all interested parties will focus on one particular issue and will put forth their most potent thoughts, serious concerns, most constructive comments and solutions on that one day, complete with links to all participating parties. Focusing and targeting that product or service or social concern would cause an instant revolution! What company would want to be in such crosshairs? What politician? What interest group? Imagine thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps millions of bloggers opining on that day's topic. What a difference that would make, because then people not part of those groups would be focused on what those groups are saying that day about that subject. That could change the world.
What can be different tomorrow is that that focus, rather than being unorganized and somewhat random, could have some kind of organizing principle applied so that what they focused on and when could really draw the media and the heads of various companies.
Major media influencers, whether it's corporate or government or other large institutions, have always had the power to pick and choose when and where and how to cause a buzz on what's of interest to them. But now the opportunity is here for thousands and millions of disparate individuals to have the same kind of power to focus - through an organized network - on things that are of concern to them. For the first time, bringing about some balance between the powers that be and the powers that have always been but could not be easily heard is possible.
As a mom and an Avon Lady and a woman and a blogger, I sometimes write about my unsatisfaction with the media's Perfect Woman Ideal. I know other women blog about this, too, and try to shout into the wilderness that they are unique, beautiful, forces of perfect nature. All of our disconnected voices haven't made a big dent in the way things are done. But I can imagine participating in such a Meta Organization, where one day the focus is on the unhealthy media portrayal of beauty issues. Imagine fifty thousand women - on the same day! - blogging about specific companies and their product literature and magazine advertising, pointing out the unobtainable standards, the way the language used in those advertisements is at odds with the images shown. Would companies listen to fifty thousand women who yelled all at once? Would the journalistic community? Would something happen? Hell. Yes.
It's time for the bloggers of the world to combine forces. We'd be unstoppable.