“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Maybe you’re not all such big fans of musical theatre as we are at Thinkbox, so I’d better tell you that the quote above is the title of a song from My Fair Lady, in which the ruthlessly rational Professor Higgins bemoans Eliza Doolittle’s absurd need for emotional expression.  It’s one of those annoying generalisations akin to Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus; annoying because it provokes a flash of recognition.

It’s a fact that males are about four times more likely to sit along the autism spectrum than females.  Autism is not a disease that needs to be cured; it is a condition that confers special qualities on people, many of them highly prized – and increasingly so in a world of dynamic technologies.  Check out your IT department; it’s likely that the majority will be male, many with a passion for the Lord of the Rings and playing World of Warcraft.

A friend of mine has a son with Asperger’s. When he was smaller, he had an elaborate ritual for arranging all his cuddly toys on his bed; if the crocodile was not to the left of the panda, the monkey to the right of the lamb etc. he would become very unhappy and agitated.  He now often asks “What’s your favourite  X?”  Putting things in order, into organised structures and hierarchies, is clearly the predominant way his brain makes sense of the world.

The reason I bring this up is that the trend of second-screening is now making some people ask “which is the first and which the second screen?”  The technology lobby has long been in a supremacy race with other media (and TV in particular), a race that only they are running.  This, combined with journalists’ need for winners and losers, has led to some ugly telly-bashing over the last decade that I’m relieved we are seeing less of.  But the topic of two-screening seems to have piqued a return to form; the suggestion that a tablet or smartphone might be a ‘second screen’ seems to offend some technologists and they argue that in fact the smaller personal screen is the one getting more attention and more action and hence should be the one called the ‘first screen’.

This misses the point on many levels:

1) Anything where you have to decode squiggles in order to read it is going to require more visual focus.
2) We know from many sources that attention is neither necessary nor indeed desirable when it comes to advertising effectiveness.
3) Our research ‘Screen Life: the view from the sofa’ revealed many things including the fact that there are often more than two screens involved, and that most concurrent screen activities are not inter-related but that when they are TV is the single biggest catalyst of interaction.

On that basis, I think it’s fair to say that TV probably could lay claim to being the first screen, in chronology if nothing else, but in fact Thinkbox is now avoiding the whole unpleasantness by calling it ‘multi-screening’.

But the wider issue of an obsession with hierarchy goes further than just multi-screening.  Maybe people who come from the binary tech world can’t help but see things in a pecking order, whereas those of us who come with more of a content sensibility are drawn to rich variety, contrasting characters, and magical combinations. It’s no surprise that so many of us at Thinkbox love musical theatre.  I hope we at Thinkbox pay full respect to search and social media, to radio and to direct mail, as they all work wonderfully alongside TV advertising; fertile unions of different advertising techniques. When internet fundamentalists wish death on TV I hope they know what they are wishing for; internet and mobile media would work very much less well without it.

The obvious answer to Professor Higgins’ question is that if women were more like men the human race would eventually die out.  Fretting about whether men or women are better could lead to extinction.

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