The CPD Blog is intended to stimulate dialog among scholars, researchers, practitioners and professionals from around the world in the public diplomacy sphere. The opinions represented here are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately on what influences us. Day to day we each have our routines and along the way are bombarded by images, messages, and endless information. But what breaks through the information overload and influences us? What captures our attention, our imagination and ultimately lodges itself in our memory? Maybe I’m paying closer attention to the details of everyday more acutely after reading Joe Nye’s latest book The Future of Power. I have always been a fan of Nye’s work and this book doesn’t disappoint as he asks us to shift how we view power and the role it plays geopolitically. It had me thinking further on the role power plays in our everyday lives, who has it and how do we get it.
When I think of who wields the most power and influence in everyday life – geopolitics aside – I think of four categories of power brokers: Gods, Geeks, Gamers, and Gatekeepers.
Let’s start with the Gods. As I contemplated these issues over Easter this past weekend, I thought of the nearly 2 billion Christians worldwide, or roughly one-third of the global population, who celebrated the event. I also thought of all my Muslim friends globally who number from 1.2 to 1.6 billion, or roughly one-fifth of the global population. No matter what your faith or lack thereof, God is ever present in many people’s lives around the globe. Many seek out religion to contemplate one’s place in the universe, atone for past wrongs, and find a sense of peace from a chaotic world. Like it or not, God is a powerful influencer in people’s lives, the ultimate power broker.
Geeks & Gamers
Geeks and Gamers are also tremendously powerful influencers. They used to be synonymous with socially awkward teenagers who rarely socialized and holed up in dark rooms to hack and program with abandon. Sometime around the time I was in grad school being a geek or gamer became “cool” not just because they dominated the counter-culture, but because they were clearly the future and many of us knew we would one day be either working for the geeks and gamers or at their mercy. The current demographic now for a geek or gamer is so diverse and broad-ranging that you can no longer put them in a nice little box. They are everywhere, in fact most of us are the geeks and gamers whether we care to admit it publicly and the mediums within which we engage with technology, capture our imagination and attention for massive amounts of time.
Then there are the gatekeepers. Who are the gatekeepers of power? They are the ones who control the flow of information, influence, and people. I would put them into the following broad categories: Official, Informal, and Literal. The official gatekeepers actually work for those in powerful, prominent positions whether in government, industry, or civil society. I’ve long argued that the executive assistants, secretaries, and schedulers of those in power are the ones with the true influence. They are the ones everyone has to get through to get to the power brokers. The informal gatekeepers are those who control and package information and experiences – the media, advertisers and marketers. We are influenced by them the minute we step out our front doors and turn on our car radios or power up our computers. Each year, advertisement spending is in the billions and after working for Keith Reinhard, Chairman Emeritus of DDB Worldwide and legend in the ad business, the past seven and half years, I’ve seen his creativity and genius at work firsthand. Keith knows how to capture your attention and your imagination unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s why he’s receiving a lifetime achievement award next week and its why people like him, all those Mad Men out there, have so much power and influence on our lives. Some of this power is wielded in subtle ways. Other times, it’s blatant, shocking and well, loud. On this point, I’m thinking of media and primarily television where Americans still get the majority of their news from. The literal gatekeepers are all those in law enforcement who remind us just by their presence of what not to do, how to stay safe, and in the case of TSA for those of us who fly regularly, how to neatly put our lives in plastic bins and chug our errant bottles of water before progressing through the body scanning line.
The Future of Power & Virgin Diplomacy
No matter where we tune our attentions and focus day to day, no matter who our primary influencers are, we still innately want to be surprised, engaged, and dare I say delighted. It was all the more ironic then to see and feel all of these emotions most recently in the new Virgin American Terminal 2 at SFO which opened last week. The Terminal is a work of art, diplomacy, and soft power all cast under Virgin’s signature soft purple lighting. Even TSA screeners had a spring in their step and a song in their heart – or maybe that was piped in. For years now in my prior work with Business for Diplomatic Action we worked with the travel and tourism industry to help raise the profile of America’s airports as the frontline in our diplomatic efforts. The airport is the first place you get a sense of a country, its people and its power profile. America’s Airports haven’t exactly led the way in developing positive customer experiences – if we can just keep our air traffic controllers awake and our full body scans to a minimum we think we’re doing good. Which is why I was so shockingly and pleasantly surprised to fly out of the new Virgin Terminal at SFO. I felt as though for the first time in a U.S. Airport, I was stepping into the future – the best of what America has to offer, American creativity, innovation and ingenuity at its best. Local organic products and leading chef-inspired restaurants lined up next to a massage therapy studio, global newsstand and travel tech gadget shop. Everything and anything to recharge (literally), comfort, inform, engage, and most importantly influence the weary traveller. I pray Virgin takes over a few more terminals in cities across America. Just imagine if Virgin America designers headed up an overhaul of our consular waiting areas in our embassies and consulates worldwide. A girl can dream.
The future of power is truly in the hands of those who inspire, surprise and engage us regardless of how we label them.
GK on April 27, 2011 @ 8:07 pm Cari- as always, great writing.
Jewish Holiday of Passover just concluded- this is the holiday to celebrate the release of the Hebrew people from Slavery in the hands of Pharaoh.
Hindu Holiday of Ram Navami happened April 12th- similarly, Ravan, king of Lanka, was terrorizing the people and they were praying for salvation.
Geeks and Gamers: Its all about Google and Facebook nowadays- isn't it?
The gatekeepers: Very interesting category. If I may take a macroglobal view, I would say there are 2 big players here: the oil industry (ie OPEC)& China... Time for disruption?
I love your approach to the future- I would add that it belongs to those who simply care about the wellbeing of others- do you know anyone who is really selfless?
Cari Guittard on April 27, 2011 @ 9:21 pm Dear Gil, deepest thanks for your thoughtful comments and for reminding us of Passover and Ram Navami. Agree with your sentiments about caring for the well-being of others which brought to mind one of my favorite quotes...
The Definition of Calling -- When the world's greatest need intersects with one's greatest passion.
Robert Hickey on April 28, 2011 @ 5:58 am Keith may know how to capture attention and imagination ... but you must have learned some things hanging around him. Start with a catchy title & then pull some strong ideas together in an appealing way. Enjoyed your thoughts and now I want to get that book!
Don Eggspuehler on April 28, 2011 @ 1:51 pm This is so true true true. Great insight Cari. You learned to be a "Gatekeeper Extraordinaire" when you worked for Charlotte Beers at the State Department. That seems like decades ago.
Abhay K on April 28, 2011 @ 7:28 pm Thanks for this thoughtful piece Cari. It is more than obvious than our world runs today more on perceptions, beliefs, traditions than objectivity, rationality, logic-some of the vital constituents of an enlightened society. What our planet needs today is a second renaissance driven by geeks, gamers and philosophers, winning over gods and gatekeepers. And that's started happening with arrival of Internet. For more please read my Op-Ed Birth of Global Democracy http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-01-21/edit-page/28367706_1_printing-press-number-of-mobile-phones-gutenberg
camille lavington on April 29, 2011 @ 7:39 am As always Cari, you are insightful and succinct in ways that stimulate my mind. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Cari Guittard on May 1, 2011 @ 5:07 am Email Feedback from a colleague in Accra, Ghana:
I love your blog. It's so true. Just this morning I was thinking of how
much our government in Ghana is not so much inspiring the young and how they
have left it for religious leaders to do so. It's scary for me and I think
it makes our future worrisome. What nations have to do is to take charge of
the future of their young generation, inspire them, motivate them and lead
them. When a government is not able to make infrastructure and the visible
propel a generation, then I guess they are a bunch of waste heads and are
just abusing time. I believe that what will propel a generation in this
current dispensation are threefold - EDUCATION, EXPOSURE and ACTION. A lack
of any of this should spell doom for any person, group and nation.
Christa Dowling on June 9, 2012 @ 7:01 am Thank you Cari for sharing your insightful observations. We live in a chaotic time, bombarded with bad news from all directions. It is helpful to clarify some thinking. The saying: Act local, think global is indeed needed now. Obviously the value of knowledge and understanding is more important now than ever! It is a constant reminder that the value of human dignity here and abroad is the finest gift mankind csn give to itself