Post-digital, post-social, post-everything?
How we talk about the future is important. It reflects not only what we think about tomorrow, but also the place we find ourselves in today. According to the buzz merchants abound in our industry, we are entering the post-digital, post-pc and post-social era.
In case you haven’t heard these pronouncements, the first is based on the belief that everything is increasingly digital (so digital disappears), the second on the fact that PC’s are getting smashed by phones and tablets (in terms of shipments and sales), and the third on the realisation that social media and the Internet are not actually separate things (go figure). I won’t list the other things that are supposed to cease, but you get the picture, we will be virtually post-everything pretty soon.
As someone who has spent some time making predictions about the future, there is a line of truth in all of them and the headlines make interesting reading. The thing that fascinates me though is that they are all statements about what won’t happen anymore, rather than what will. The shifts outlined above are all real and grounded in data to some degree, but the conclusion is their effect will be total and will put an end to some of the realities we live in today.
What they really tell us is that we are at a point in history where our knowledge of the future is limited. While I haven’t stacked up the data to prove it, an environment of sustained and predictable economic growth is intuitively a much easier one to forecast in. When shifts occur they break linear trend data and re-write rules that have lasted for decades. One thing is for sure (perhaps reflecting the current cultural zeitgeist) there isn’t a lot of positivity, or surety, in suggesting things are ending, rather than suggesting some of the new things that might begin.
If you follow the words of these industry poster boys (see what I did there) and their proficies through to fruition, the future is slightly confusing for us in the marketing industry. The logical conclusion from the post-digital, social and PC world, is some kind of post-apocalyptic singular convergence of everything. Life becomes digital, social is no different from digital (which doesn’t exist anymore anyway) and life’s mobile (which it already is). Confusing huh?
So where does this leave us as an industry? Well, we have work to do. We need to spend more time really understanding how digital technology will actually further integrate into physical life. We also need to spend time analysing what this change will create and not simply the buzzwords it may destroy. Finally, and the most critical lesson from all of this; we need to jump on the fact that we are at a point in history where planning and creating the future has never been more open. And let’s be honest, if we reflect on the predictions discussed here, that has never been more important.
Ben Hourahine, ‘Post-digital, post-social, post-everything’, Adnews, 24 Febuary 2012, p. 17