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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

I have seen the face of evil . . .
February 22, 2010 - 8:02pm

. . . and it is, in truth, apparently banal.

Oh, it's kind of new-tech, in a 21st century social-networking-becomes-social-engineering sort of way. And I suspect that college students and relatively recent grads are at the center of its target demographic.

The spawn of the Devil, in all its Hellboy-meets-Hello-Kitty cuteness, can be yours at blippy.com.

Funded, in large part, by Sequoia Capital, Charles River Ventures (think "Twitter") and Ron Conway, and headed by Philip Kaplan (known, randomly I'm sure, as "pud"), Blippy intends to take what Twitter did with the question "what are you doing right now?" and apply it to the question "what are you buying right now?" It works by capturing and sharing credit card transaction data, so users don't even have to remember to tweet (blip? bleep?) to participate. They just register their credit cards and, from that point on, everything happens automagically.

The banality of the Blippy business plan is that, in a society where participation equals consumption, the social streaming of purchase transactions is a logical next step. We are no longer known by the company we keep, nor by what we do, but by what we buy (albeit increasingly useless and short-lived stuff from an ever-decreasing number of suppliers). With Blippy, I don't have to worry about achieving my 15 minutes of fame -- my purchase from Overstock.com can achieve 15 milliseconds of that fame for me!

That characterization of why a consumer might participate is probably a tad cynical, but also probably not far off the mark. Why a retailer would participate is rather more obvious. Retailers hope to stimulate copy-cat or "me, too!" purchases. Like unto (but an order of magnitude advanced from) the candies and weight-loss booklets located in the check-out lane, retailers hope Blippy will trigger impulse buying. And the wonder of it is, it doesn't even have to be your impulse!

In a society whose model of economic growth is dependent on over-leveraged consumerism (the fact that consumer debt is once again expanding was trumpeted as a sign of economic recovery), the potential for Blippy to generate "shareholder value" seems considerable. Whether it truly benefits society (much less ecology) to sprinkle this accelerant on the embers of our recently-overheated economic firebox is another question. After all, a recent (albeit unpublished) UN report estimated that one-third of all major corporate profits come as a result of inflicting environmental damage with impunity.

Who knows? If someone can just come up with an effective way to shift purchasing more toward low-value short-lived vicarious impulse items (truly the crack cocaine of the consumer culture), maybe we can get the proportion up to one-half. And Blippy might just be that way!

 

 

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