Brands are killing people
Oliviero Toscani

From where we stand, it seems pretty perfect. Excitement technologies and software justifies all our inactions.

We are obsessed win communication and technology. We foolishly imagine that this will somehow save the planet, yet all it doesn't keeps us so busy that we don't have to think about anything. We are becoming very lazy.

And in the meantime:

80% of the planet has never heard a dialing tone.

Less than 7% of the world is online, or, 93% of the world's population has no access to the Internet.

What we refer to as the technological and digital divide is clearly more of a schism, a gaping, unbridgeable crack in the earth that acts more like a barrier, protecting the haves from the have-nots and making them richer.

This year, 100 million babies will be born. Today, the world will gain another 230,000 people.

97% of those babies will be born into the third world.

Within 50 years Europe will have 25% fewer people than today, and Japan 21 million fewer. In 1900, Europe had three times the population of Africa; by 2050, Africa will have three times the population of Europe.

If the world was shrunk to 100 individuals (with all the existing human ratios the same) six people would own 59 per cent of the wealth and 50 would suffer from malnutrition.

What this means, is that in rich first world countries, less people will share more money, while in developing third world nations limited resources will be spread thinner and thinner.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

You might think that we would be willing to; share some of this wealth, but in fact official aid from rich to poor countries proportionately declined 25% between 1992 and 1997 and now stands at its lowest level in 40 years.

Globally, 2 bn people go hungry every day due to a combination of inequitable land distribution, soil erosion, lack of infrastructure, grinding poverty in cities, and people unable to buy! food from the world market.

But there is no reason why anyone should go hungry or thirsty. The problem is poverty and inequality rather than technology, and distribution and political systems rather than production. The reality is that there is more than enough food to go round. Better management of agriculture, water supplies, land reform, fish farming, renewable energy and a move away from western diet of meat, should be well able to feed the 10 bn people expected to be around in 2050. The problems, as today, will be in distribution and access to ever scarcer resources.

Human statistics hide the real human problems. We hide behind a wall of figures and percentages, an infowall, hoping against hope that the world of real individual pain will remain a virtual one, one in which death and suffering is somebody else's problem, where any remote suggestion of real emotion can be buried beneath the white pages of statistical papers.

Today technology is like some colas (coca-cola, pepsi colas, and so on), largely content free, are artificially flavoured, infinitely reproducable soft drinks based on a memory of addiction and sweetening our needs. No potential for sustenance or nourishment, and no enduring quality beyond an immediate need of thirst. A thirst for what? An endless yearning to fill the space, that gaping hole left when we are not fed or truly satisfied or loved. As we cannot love ourselves, we crave substitute love from the outside, and we mould media to perform that virtual role for us.

And, like using monosodium glutamate, the food tastes great, is addictive, but can leave you feeling bloated and tired with a headache, leaving a trace of addiction, and, like addicts, we always return for more and more, our memories washed of the past, but not free enough to live the present or to imagine a different future.

Branding means exactly that, a burning logo of ownership stamped forever on our brain. A brand makes you feel a part of the herd, the global farm where difference means estrangement. No one wants to become a lost or black sheep, but we are all lambs to the corporation-slaughter-houses. The brand is a membership card, means joining the global club, in the race against mortality, a race against time; that will stop death snapping at our designer heels.

Today, everything is branded. Reality is visualized, and a logo is perceived as having more value than food! or life-saving drugs. The simplification of the world into easy to remember brands is at the price of diversity, is at the price of local identity and pride.

Brands don't feed people, they feed from them. Big brothers are cannibals. They appropriate indigenous cultures into their own, and regurgitate them as artificial authenticity. This impacts directly on people's sense of self reliance, in their confidence at being able to survive. We supplant people's cultures with a whitewashed simplicity that comes from elsewhere, and we use the tools of technology, fear and addiction to do this.

Brands are killing people.

As many of you know, brands are the reason behind the current astronomical price of aids-related drugs. The pharmaceutical cartel producing the drugs has used international patenting laws and the US government to force countries not to use gneric copies and so potentially alleviate millions from suffering, instead, trade sanctions are threatened against those countries who do not comply; specifically those with the greatest need, the highest rates of aids, arid the lowest income. Millions will die as a result of this brands-mafia-mentality.

Seventy per cent of US export earnings are now linked to intellectual brands property, from Aids drugs to brands such as Disney, McDonald's and Microsoft, Nike, and so on.

The rich get even richer and the poor pay the fees.

We are at full speed towards physical human cloning, we are fast becoming a world of identical twins.

The future is seen as one in which scientific and technological evolution combined with branding will create a blemish-free, pain-free, shiny sanitized virtual world, one in which the sometime ugliness of the human reality will be excluded for fear of upsetting the codes. As we attempt to reduce all life to a set of patented codes, the biggest risk is that of a natural evolution. Difference becomes the enemy of the state of man.

Society don't want to be original, but a copy. Modern buildings with revival styles, every city a tourist version of itself. Holiday-inns of reproduced paintings adorning their walls of identical rooms.

Media is not creative, it is reproductive, choosing to publish cloned clichees from a homogenized toolbox of ready-made Ideas. Everything must be reproductive.

Mediocrity at full speed.

There is not just real sex, or pro-creation. Now, it is reproduction without sex, the pornography of promise. Immortality through cloning. Media has become sterilized, one-directional, a self-deproducing monoculture. The fantasy of excitement and promise, a place where Disney and sperm are frozen for future revival.

Technology and communication feed our fears, they reinforce our deepest insecurities, that our survival depends on material wealth and power, and evolves them into highly sophisticated software systems, final solutions all based around and supporting the weapon of intellectual property. Designers are in the front line of an army of mental collaborationists!

But we need communication and design. There are many examples of visual communication that dares to risk difference. That go beyond profits and corporate needs.

Our souls need that creativity. So in the absence of faith, ideology, religious foundations, the fast edited images, the hollow emptiness of cyberspace. the digital mirage leaves us yearning for sustenance at an existential level. Our existence is becoming sub-humanized, and we look for something real. Music, painting, stories, writing, film. All these are being sanitized by digital conversion and edited to meet market needs, decided by lawyers, producers, marketing man, focus group researchers. The artists should have the power to free themselves from their own fears.

The future needs, to allow the artists, real access.

Technology, design and communication today feed from the people they should instead serve. They originated as a public service, but now have descended into being a tool of economic manipulation. It is time to reverse. Design and communication could really serve people. They could be agitprop tools, using international language to symbolize and identify a social struggle. They could be used to help empower peoples to better express themselves in the world. They can be taught as a profession to underprivileged societies to help enable children to link with the rest of society and give them a better future in a world.

This kind of design and communication can challenge ideas and break the rules and fixed genetic patterns that govern us. It is not in the interest of the system of the media and corporations for us to think, creativity is subversive. We could break that cycle and crack the codes, and help encourage free thought. It can help generate genuine beauty, liberated us in free expression with true and deep meanings with the world around US.

We have to have the courage to risk of being different. No one need go hungry, culturally, physically or spiritually. The distribution channels are there. We, as providers and content creators, have the keys to unlock true communication, communication with real meaning and the power to change our lives and the lives of others for the better, with creativity and respect.

We need to create a dialogue, not a monobrand, a monothought a monologue, a monoculture. We have to alter the messages, rearrange the image.

We should not only be survivors as a species, but we should prosper creatively and evolve dynamically, we must recognize the whole human race as a brand, with all of its diversity and colors, its differences and sometimes its limits and vetos. A human brand based on respect, not power; possibility, not uniformity. Love, not fear.