About 100 years ago, new ideas were spread mainly by newspapers and other forms of print media. At the dawn of the 20th century, thousands of newspapers were published in the United States, including dailies, weeklies, monthlies, and quarterlies. Of course, there were also magazines, journals, and books. Billboards, movies and newsreels, radio, television, and, most recently, the Internet emerged, with each communication technology advancement having advantages in terms of the generation of ideas, their dissemination, and their use.
In the early days of the 20th century, thinking was relatively simplistic, calculated, and orderly. Everyone seemed to have the same basic information, and small groups of thinkers and decision makers created ideas and moved them along via the print media. Of course, dissemination was slow. In response, consumers of information had time to think about the matters at hand, consider their options, discuss their thoughts with others, work out solutions, and then take action with reason and purpose. While individuals considered ideas in relative isolation, the wisdom of the crowd was often sought and valued. Yes, there were exceptions: rapid decisions made by knowledgeable and experienced people were considered valued in crisis situations such as war and emergencies.
My first memories of how ideas came into being and were spread came from discussions with my parents. But I also remember my fascination with a big old Philco radio and later a crystal radio that I made myself. It was a big day when the first television entered our home… this was clearly a window to the world. It became a ritual to gather for the nightly news and then consider and discuss what was going on. Although this time was remarkable, for we could see and hear the world, the individual consumer of information was still somewhat detached in terms of participation in that world.
The next technology advancements changed everything: the introduction of the computer and the development of the Internet were monumental. The world is now driven by the accelerated exchange of ideas and information. People share, search, cooperate, discover, select, and adopt strategies and coordinate their actions. People are no longer isolated; they exist and participate in the world. Moreover, an enormous amount of information about that world, its activities, and its inhabitants is now available.
It is also clear that the collection of “big data” about all aspects of human life will accelerate in the future. Millions of people can be made aware of events and ideas in seconds, and this can affect our society in both positive and negative ways. With a cell phone, we can take pictures of an event and share it with the world, and matters of crime, injustice, disease, and war can come to the forefront in seconds. Virtual crowds can similarly form and consist of people located throughout the world. Likewise, crazy people existing in isolation can find and be encouraged by like-minded (or crazier) ones with relative ease. It must also be realized that what is on the Internet is what people have chosen to put there, but not totally. In addition to the information that they want to share, there is also information that was never really meant to be shared, including credit card purchasing behavior, TV viewer preferences, GPS locations, social media activity, cell phone call information, and the like. The world is talking and sharing, and everyone can look and listen; we now have opportunities and vulnerabilities different from any other time in history. For example, if you post an announcement of the birth of your child on the Internet today, will that child be sent communications about going to the orthodontist in 7 years, applying for social security and Medicare at age 65, and the availability of nearby funeral plots some time later?
Now, you might think that this editorial is about the Internet, but that is really not its focus. The Internet is merely a tool that is now widely available and wildly used. My interest is the flow of ideas and the behavior and actions of those who use the Internet. Specifically, I intend to describe a newly minted term called the Zero Minute of Truth (referred to as ZMOT and pronounced “zee-mot”).
To explain this term, let me give you a common example that breaks down shopping into a series of events that are designed to eventually encourage a purchase. You are driving down the highway, and you think “I’m hungry” (the stimulus). What do you do? Nowadays, you may well decide to do an Internet search for “restaurants”; this is the ZMOT, and it is very important in marketing. Your search will be a discovery that will inform you where nearby restaurants are located, their times of operation, their menus, their ambiance, their prices, and so on. From the list provided by the search, you will then abandon the search or consider stopping and making a purchase; this is the First Moment of Truth (FMOT). The next step involves the consideration of the opinions of others who have previously had an experience at the restaurant that you have selected; this is the Second Moment of Truth (SMOT), and it usually involves the assessment of testimonials written by people you don’t actually know. Based on that assessment, you might abandon your search or stop and have the meal; this would be an informed decision. Subsequently comes the opportunity for the Ultimate Moment of Truth (UMOT) where you, the diner, can share your experience at the restaurant with others. Now, you might think that your finding a restaurant is a relatively small matter. Please keep in mind that Google answers more than 100 billion searches… every month.
In orthodontics, in the good old days, the typical experience might involve a mother noticing that her kid’s teeth are crooked, consulting with her general dentist about treatment, talking with trusted neighbors and friends about their experiences (ie, word of mouth), and then phoning your office to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You may have enjoyed such a system for many successful years. But today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will not be like today. As long as the Internet is trusted, your ZMOT will increasingly occur on the Internet, long before you are even aware that the patient exists and is thinking about seeking orthodontic treatment. You have the opportunity to interact with the world at the ZMOT. That is when and where you will compete with others. Are you prepared?
Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you Is worth savin’ Then you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin’ Come writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen And keep your eyes wide The chance won’t come again And don’t speak too soon For the wheel’s still in spin And there’s no tellin’ who That it’s namin’ For the loser now Will be later to win For the times they are a-changin’ Come senators, congressmen Please heed the call Don’t stand in the doorway Don’t block up the hall For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled There’s a battle outside And it is ragin’ It’ll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls For the times they are a-changin’ Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land And don’t criticize What you can’t understand Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command Your old road is Rapidly agin’ Please get out of the new one If you can’t lend your hand For the times they are a-changin’ The line it is drawn. The curse it is cast The slow one now Will later be fast As the present now Will later be past The order is Rapidly fadin’ And the first one now Will later be last For the times they are a-changin’