“Nothing will ever be the same again”, “There is a before and after the Internet”, “There is no possible way to disconnect”, “It’s quite different to what it was like 10 or 15 years ago”… And we could fill this paragraph and the next two with quotes (some revealing, the rest simply a longing for the past) which we’ve been hearing or repeating (some, time ago, others recently) in conversations, presentations, workshops, seminars, coffee break talks, or after-office ramblings.
At an initial level, we could think that we are talking about communication, advertising, marketing, or journalism if it was the case.
However, even if our professional day-to-day activities are developed in any of these areas, and with colleagues, partners, suppliers or clients of these worlds, when we have conversations like the ones mentioned earlier, we are talking about culture, about our social fabric which includes all the ways and expressions of the society in which we are living.
In his book “Being Digital” (a 1996 bestseller), Nicholas Negroponte(through 18 articles compiled in that book, published before that inWired Magazine) touched on issues related to the relationship we as people were establishing with technologies and emerging concepts at the time, though very common for all of us today, such as virtual reality, HD TV, hypermedia, visual interfaces, or voice recognition (let me recommend you to watch TV at home, the recent Windows 8 or theSiri thing on your iPhone, to recall what our consumption of media was like in 1996 and then to read this book).
From this book it can be deduced that the concept “digitality”, which is used to define the condition of life in a digital culture: to live in constant contact with other people by mobile devices, instant results for the search of information on the web, categorization of almost every type of data in its totality or in fragments, and the interpersonal communication via email or personal digital spaces (in its time Negroponte would say forums or blogs, today, any social network).
Well then, if up to this point in the text you are still reading, be it on a screen or in print, my thanks for your contribution to digitality. Going back to our issue, the digital culture transforms and changes everything it touches (it is… “viral”! Doesn’t that sound familiar?)
And everything, is EVERYTHING: products (walking shoes were never the same again after the chips of Nike+, and you cannot think of a car that does not help you drive through interaction with an interface and data), services (anyone remembers what it was like to go to a branch office of a bank for any banking transaction or transfer?), brands (10 out of the 20 most valuable brands according to Interbrand are directly related, or its core business, to the digital world) and last but not least, we, the people.
And that is where I wanted to get to, even if I needed five paragraphs to do it (hey, to be short I already have Twitter). People are cultural beings. We are ruled by a series of regulations, organizations, habits, languages, values and symbols. And all that, sooner rather than later, will also be changed -we will not judge whether it is for the better, since that would be part of another conversation in any case- by digitality. And in this giant group that we people are in, there is a phenomenon, which at least I would define as curious, that I have unwisely called “The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Syndrome”.
“Syndrome, symptoms, sickness? What’s this guy talking about?” You’ll be asking yourself. Let us reduce the sample and go back to the initial group of observation: those that apart from being “persons” work in communication, advertising, marketing or journalism. We find that many of us do not quite assimilate or integrate “digitality” in its whole.
Typical situation: someone at home, with his friends, family, who perhaps is 100% digital in his cultural consumption and is happy with it, but who cannot make it from “9 to 5” and has to be a professional of 1996, as if two different persons lived within the same individual. I know absolutely nothing about psychiatry, but having a double personality must be, apart from disturbing, not very healthy for oneself and the environment around.
Digitality, which we already discussed from a professional level, brings with it changes that can be seen in the speed with which decisions are made, in certain horizontal organizational structures, in a sort of immediateness that sometimes clashes with bureaucratic processes, in the flexibility and adaptability that a person, or a group of persons, should have to confront problems to be solved, in the intense usage of tools to collaborate, in the capacity of being able to trust others, in not very defined borders for the concepts of time and space and in an intensification of the sense of collectivity.
The point, guys, is that it’s an undeniable truth. And it’s happening now. And for some people it will be very difficult to adapt themselves to these changes and for others it will less difficult. And the same with organizations, which in my humble opinion, are the ones that have more difficulty with the changes unless they do the same work and make peace between their “Jekyll and Hyde” like many professionals today are actually trying to accomplish.
It’s hard, sure, and it’s not something that happens overnight (that’s why you’ll have heard more than once, and you’ll continue to hear many more times, the quotes with which this text started), but the positive thing is that when it happens, you will be able to focus in the depth of things and not so much on the shape which, as always, even though at higher speed, it will continue changing.