The Rise of Infinite Noise

In 2018, more people on our planet had a mobile device (6.8 billion) than had electricity (6.4 billion), and the vast majority of those 6 billion devices allowed people to create, distribute, and access as much content as they desired. Increasingly, these devices themselves are creating content: By 2025 IHS estimates there will be 15 connected devices per person on the planet, each one capable of consuming, creating, and distributing media—without the aid of a person. Thus, our current Infinite Media Era is living up to its name, with no end in sight for the domination of individuals and their devices or the increasing amount of content they will create.

So it comes as no surprise that noise is more than 100X greater than it was when first measured in 1900, but that doesn’t account for the fact that noise is also much more complicated. If we call everything “noise,” we are lumping together very different kinds and assuming that all these types of noise function similarly. That’s not the case. In the Limited Era, media was dominated by noise from businesses, mostly advertisements and marketing messages; the Infinite Era introduced individual noise, such as texts, social posts, emails, and other device noise, such as app notifications. This means that people must be more selective about the noise they listen to, simply because of the sheer variety and volume of it.

All of these types of noise, however, can generally be broken down into two categories: noise generated by businesses and noise generated by individuals (and their individual devices). When we view noise through these two lenses, we get a much clearer picture of why we need a revolution in our idea of marketing to break through it.

Let’s look first at Business Noise. In the chart below, which shows its progression over the past 130 years, we see a spike in the total volume of business-generated noise after the introduction of each new major channel: radio, television, and finally, the internet and social media. Each spike is followed by a ceiling, a saturation point, if you will, beyond which business noise cannot grow until another media channel enters the environment. The important takeaway here is that business noise is a by-product of market opportunity, not consumer desire.

By contrast, noise created by individuals and devices has a much different growth pattern, with no saturation points. It begins with the dawn of email in the late 1980s and continues to climb at a relatively alarming rate. Comparing the two charts, we can see that in 2009, the volume of individual noise surpassed the volume of business noise and never turned back.

After years of increasing levels of Individual Noise, the average consumer in 2018 notices 500 messages per day: the 150 in business noise dwarfed by 350 pieces of individual noise. Two things are significantly different in this growth pattern: Individual Noise is not just steadily growing, we have yet to see any saturation, and that’s for one profound reason: it is desired and valued by the individual. And because this noise is highly valued, it has a much greater ability to persuade and motivate individuals—much more than Business Noise ever could. So noise is very different from what it used to be, and for Business Noise (our noise) to break through, it must act more and more like Individual Noise.