Hanging with your prosthetic selves

This week I read Zoe Scaman’s latest report on communities; there probably aren’t many (if any) people paying as much attention at the intersections behind brands, agencies and whatever community is in these conversations today. If that’s your bag, do check it out.

It did spur one particular thought in my mind; are we still missing the macro scalability piece? What happens when everyone does this?

Back in 2009, I published a thesis at the end of the IPA excellence diploma, entitled ‘The Communis Manifesto‘. The abstract neatly sums it up, as you’d hope:

“The brand communications which evolved in the mass media era are becoming more and more ineffective at changing peoples’ perceptions of companies and brands.

The connections people make and communities they form nowadays are increasingly where they source their information; people are influenced most by people and communities.

I believe that the future of brand communications lies in finding a way to become part of communities, and communicate with them in a way that is shared, participatory and reciprocal.

In this way companies can affect peoples’ perceptions of them, and make all of their brand communications more effective”

What was interesting, when I reflected on it for the Nick Kendall’s book celebrating the diploma (What is a 21st Century Brand?), was that I only thought in the micro scale.

Individual examples, plans for how a single company might do this, etc.

It largely misses the macro implications of trying to do this when everyone else is too.

The cognitive burden on people trying to interact deeply, properly, with mutual benefit accruing all round, doesn’t yet stack up when you think about being a member of multiple communities.

People only have so much time to give.

The exhaustion of active participation across too many communities is a real life issue for many anyway, never mind adding in more in a digital realm.

Yet a different thought struck me this morning.

Might we perhaps begin to see technology companies offer an alternative use of LLMs (Large Language Models, or ‘AI’ in the current vernacular… that’s a whole other blog post).

“Let us be you for you”.

How could you train AI agents to act and participate in communities as you would, without you having to be there?

What continually updated information would it need to work well, to be a representative of you now?

Would you have a regular check-in with all of your different prosthetic selves?

The house-party protocol from Iron Man 3, if you will…

And yet.

The most crucial question of that line of thought is how would people reconcile these agents as part of themselves?

Social media profiles are one thing; they’re an extension of a specific type of self, but there’s always-on, active decision-making for the most part.

Because perhaps the most interesting part of Zoe’s presentation is her description of the societal shifts sparking this interest. Increased isolation, polarised discourse, generations set adrift from the established order of things.

It feels pretty bleak out there for a lot of people. How would having to manage even more of your prosthetic selves in that world help you find belonging?

Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should, etc etc