What the What?

By christinewatson / / I’ve come to the sad conclusion that my real life, through no fault of my own, has become like Facebook — like I am living inside of the thing. And I can’t say I’m happy about it. I want my old real life back. Maybe you can help? Let me explain. Over the last few weeks — as people do — I’ve met friends for dinner, drinks, or out in other social situations. And I’ve noticed that all of the interactions feel just like visiting someone’s Facbook page. How so? Well, “how” is a funny word to use here, because it’s been absent from all of my encounters. See, everyone framed the entire conversations around the word “what”. In many cases, before my butt hit the bar stool, I was barraged with Facebook Status-like exchanges: “We went here…”; “I saw this…”; “Did you hear what so and so said…” etc… And the only questions I was ever asked were “what” questions: “What have you been up to?”; “I didn’t see you post last week, what did you do last week?”; “What are doing this weekend?”, etc… Now here’s where I got frustrated. Any attempt to ask a deeper question — like a “why or “how” question was met with a blank look. And then the conversation quickly turned back to the shallow waters of “what” and only sometimes “where” which isn’t any more revealing. This made me sad. I’ve been reflecting on this, and then I remembered this photo that’s been bouncing around Facebook and Twitter recently. (I think I saw it first when Steve Case (@stevecase) tweeted it a few weeks ago.) When I took another look at the photo, that’s when it hit me: the interesting thing about all of those social media platforms is they seem to only answer “what” and “where” questions. Are we being trained by Social Media to not think deep thoughts? Now, I’m not saying when I get together with friends and peers I expect to delve into the depths of Kierkegaard, but I enjoy a good conversation. While I don’t necessarily enjoy political conversations, I am a creative person and I like to make things so discussions about art, writing, design, photography, etc. are always fun. At least to me. But you really can’t have a good discussion without some “why and “how” questions being tossed around and debated. Since this column is about story and advertising, I’ll end with these thoughts: In storytelling, the dilemmas — the choices and all the things that make story arc interesting — are the direct result of answering “why” and “how” questions. Sure, we want to know who the hero is. And we see what he needs to do. But let us think about WHY and HOW he’s going to go about this? Those are deeper human experiences that we can all relate to — now we are interested. In advertising, answering “why” and “how” is almost always about demonstrating the differentiating brand attributes and user benefit. Tell us (or better yet SHOW us) “why” or “how” a brand is different and you just might capture our imagination and our pocketbook. Next time you are catching up with friends, if the conversation gets a little slow, see if you can get past the “what” and maybe you’ll inspire a real discussion instead of a just a long list of status updates. -Bernard Urban