Please can we kill the media-neutral idea?
August 20, 2009 8 Comments
There are a number of words I hate.
‘Special’ is one. As in ‘it was such a special time’. Or the even more kidney-punchingly awful ‘he’s a very special person’. (It always puts me in mind of the ‘Special Olympics’. Not, as I imagine it, a gathering of inspiring individuals who achieve remarkable athletic feats despite considerable physical handicap, but instead a series of events in which insipid, conspicuously-lovely people, compete to see who can lend the most compassionate ear, or arrange the most fetching bunch of flowers from a selection they’ve picked themselves, or (and this is the 100m of the Special Olympics) the event in which people take an elderly person they’re not even related to for an outing to the park on a sunny afternoon. Now that’s special.)
I now add to this list ‘media-neutral’. Not a word, I acknowledge, but a concept I hate. I can’t bear the phrase and its spectacular overuse (I also hate its intellectual, been-to-university cousin, ‘media-agnostic’). I really dislike the convenience of it, in that it describes an idea that can be applied equally well (or badly) across all media. You might as well call ideas media-ambivalent and be done with it.
I propose it be replaced, first as a phrase, but more importantly as a concept.
We don’t need media-neutral ideas. We need ideas that are brilliant because of their application through individual media, not independently of those media. Our goal should be media that makes the idea better, and ideas that make the media better. That’s the exact opposite of neutral.
Neutrality’s not a positive concept. It’s the absence of an opinion, sitting on the fence and having a dollar each way. That’s no state for an idea to be in.
I want enthusiasm, commitment, a stake in the ground and a flag run up a pole. I want an idea that wants to be something and a media that helps it do it.
The idea of media-neutrality just reinforces the artificial and unhealthy separation of idea and application. We’ve grappled with this for years and need to acknowledge, again, that the two must be inextricably linked. An idea only has value when it’s brought to life through media, and it’s got that much more value when the media is central to the idea. It’s the convenient, artificial distinction between the two that annoys me so much about media-neutrality.
Ideas aren’t media-neutral in the same way that clothes aren’t people-neutral. Ideas become brilliant when brought to life in the right way through the right media on the right occasion. Clothes become brilliant when worn in the right way by the right people on the right occasion. But clothes don’t get designed neutrally. They get designed with people and occasions central to the design process because that’s how they will get worn, just as ideas should be developed with media central to the creative process because that’s how they get consumed. The idea just can’t be neutral.
So I propose a change.
Let’s move on from the negative start-point. Neutrality takes what is potentially a great idea and drags it down with ambivalence. How much better to talk about an idea that’s media-positive? Or better yet, an idea that’s media-exuberant? Doesn’t that do a better job of describing an idea that is going to be made brilliant by its smart application through media? And not just any media, but very specific media that sit at the heart of the idea itself.
I want never again to describe an idea as media-neutral. In fact I want never again to see an idea that is media-neutral. I want to see ideas that are great because of the opportunity that their media presents. I want excitement and possibility to characterise the marriage of media and idea. I want ideas that are media-exuberant.