Stephen P. Williams has worked as a copywriter, long-form writer and author for a wide variety of creative agencies, like Rokkan, RAPP and Co:Collective. He's written a dozen books, as a ghostwriter and author, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, GQ, Smithsonian and the first true online magazine, word.com.
This morning I ate breakfast at The Breslin in NYC with a 50-year-old freelance "experience director" for a number of leading agencies. With a tinge of disbelief, and not a little disgust, he described once working with a much-praised 50-something creative director who in meetings repeatedly, and proudly, said, "I don't get digital. I just don't understand it."
It startles me to see how tentatively some people (to be blunt: people who are, like me, over 50) approach the 0s and 1s that define everything around us. It's like they're just waiting for this whole digital thing to die down a bit. We olds tend to look at technology just as a tool for making things easy, or a toy for our entertainment. Rarely do I encounter olds who have a sense of wonder about the almost fantastical changes happening around us. But just as my experience director friend and I had to ditch our traditional bacon and egg notions in order to enjoy our modern breakfast of poached eggs with curried lentils, and baked eggs with spiced tomato and chorizo, olds facing digital need to expand their minds.
I spent most of my career as a kind of literary snob, avoiding advertising work in favor of coming up with ideas for "meaningful" magazine articles and books (ok, there were quite a few meaningless ideas in there too). But a few years ago I realized that this snobby world was (thankfully) dead to me. The new online world had just gotten too exciting. So I started doing digital creative work whenever I could. Who wants to just write words when you can create a whole experience online? And more importantly, who wants to think in print terms when the rest of the world, clearly, is leaping into the digital fray.
In my mind, we are entering a new age of enlightenment, where digital technology (or its as yet unknown replacement) will profoundly transform the ways we do business, cure ourselves of health issues, interact with our friends and family and strangers, and even connect with our spiritual paths. I'm sure that in the future we will look back on the 20th century as being one of the darkest periods in history, like the 13th century before the light of the Renaissance transformed much of Europe.
Hearing the story of the creative director who couldn't be bothered to even try to understand the new digital models just reinforced my belief that the old guard is falling – not crumbling, but stepping off a cliff. The coming age of connection, cooperation, and integration will explode the paradigms of the past, including everything having to do with business and money. Globalist capitalism, which in the 20th century won the game against everything from communism to anarchical naturism (nudists throwing Molotov cocktails? -- bad idea from the start), has met its fiercest opponent: itself. It will not survive intact.
The digital universe is deciding what the replacement will be, but you can bet that hierarchical, top to bottom corporations and marketing strategies won't be part of it. But don't worry. I believe profit will increase, along with individual creativity, at the same time environmental depredation and cruelty decrease (I'm not wise enough to say how or when). The winners will be those of us who quit trying to control events, and instead learn to see what's happening, and navigate the flow. Surfing the wave will be a lot more profitable than trying to build a seawall against it. That goes for companies as well as individuals. Wax your boards!