TMW #163 | Carpe Datum

Feb 25, 2024

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Carpe Datum

Seize the data

Remember Dead Poets Society? This was the movie that breathed life back into the concept of Carpe Diem


Carpe Diem is an ancient perspective, which in Latin means “Seize the Day”. Our modern internet-brained interpretation of this is YOLO – you only live once – or Zuckerberg’s now famous “move fast and break things.” 

Here is the proper translation from the Merriam-Webster dictionary

Carpe Diem, a phrase that comes from the Roman poet Horace, means literally "Pluck the day", though it's usually translated as "Seize the day". A free translation might be "Enjoy yourself while you have the chance". For some people, Carpe Diem serves as the closest thing to a philosophy of life as they'll ever have.

In Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams’s character, John Keating, delivers a now-iconic monologue to his new students that basically expresses that they will all soon end up in the grave, so they should take every moment to live life to its fullest. 

I can’t think of a better analogy that sums up the past 20 years of the digital media, advertising, and marketing landscape. A Carpe Diem attitude has spawned 14 thousand new marketing and advertising technology companies, more than $1.5 trillion in ad spend since the year 2000, and has given us the largest companies the history of the world has ever seen.


It has also brought us to today, where the industry is rife with ad fraud, data privacy abuses, and anti-competitive behavior. According to Cory Doctorow, we’re now entering the aptly named “enshittocene” of digital technology, where all these wonderful, free platforms continue are spiraling. 

Ed Zitron, a long-time critic of big tech and its many sins, does an excellent job framing what he calls a season of “big tech overstaying its welcome”, going on to list some of the major abuses from these platforms: 

“In 2014, we saw a mass consolidation in the tech industry, one that fundamentally changed the world in a way that I’m not sure many have considered. Google bought Nest for $3.2 billion and AI company DeepMind for $500 million, Microsoft bought Minecraft developer Mojang for $2.5 billion, Facebook bought VR headset company Oculus Rift for $2 billion and globally-adored chat app WhatsApp for $19 billion, Samsung bought Smart Home company SmartThings for $200 million, and Amazon bought Twitch for $970 million. And one of the more notable acquisitions that people forget is Qualcomm buying CSR, a company that (through a series of mergers) owned the aptX audio codec family that underpins most high resolution bluetooth audio, among numerous other Bluetooth and GPS patents that are now owned by one single $171 billion corporation.”

The phrase Carpe Diem was first unearthed in 65 BC, just shy of 500 years before Rome was sacked and most of it burned to the ground. The internet evolves in a much faster timescale than in ancient times. I’d say we build and destroy the digital equivalent of Rome every 500 days. Just a cursory glance at the evisceration of wealth at the hands of crypto and digital tokens, or the tens of billions wasted in the concept of the “Metaverse” tells us that new ideas in the internet economy are often not long for this world.


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Want to share something interesting or be featured in The Martech Weekly? Drop me a line at juan@themartechweekly.com.

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