Opinion: Perspective - Why the next digital breakthrough might not be ... er ... digital

By Johnny Vulkan, a partner at Anomaly, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 26 February 2010 12:00AM

A few weeks ago, I was asked by a client what the next big thing in digital is going to be.

No points for guessing the answer - obviously, it's going to be the "holodeck" from Star Trek and we probably only have to wait 140 years or so before we get our sticky little mitts on a beta version. I, for one, am thrilled by the prospect and, assuming they can work out the considerable kinks in cryogenics, I've got this really great idea for it. Honest.

While I almost did blurt out "holodeck!" in the meeting, I showed rare restraint, retired to the relative safety of my desk and decided to have a think. That having failed, I stumbled over a thought several days later while eating a burrito.

The next big thing in digital, probably isn't.

OK. I'm being a little sensationalist, but if you've started to believe that every answer comes in the form of a vowel-free digital service or the latest creation from Cupertino, you could be Tweeting up the wrong tree. That's not to say these things don't represent important shifts in how we're going to consume, communicate and market online, but it's also what happens offline that we should be giving attention to.

In the same way that it has been easy to take pot shots at ad agencies for looking at every problem through the lens of an ad, the same accusation could be levelled at their digitally focused siblings.

While you can undoubtedly have a meaningful existence socialising virtually, the future of humankind does actually require us to ... you know ... touch.

There is genius lying at the intersection of where digital meets analogue, yet there are surprisingly few companies playing there. This isn't a huge problem right now as we're all still enjoying an unending stream of shiny new things and ways to connect, but a continuous fixation on what's next could result in missed opportunities for the growing number of smart new media companies and thinkers.

At their best, digital ideas enhance interactions, celebrate moments and genuinely inspire people. These are the places where the newest of technologies meet the oldest of human truths. But at their worst, they can get lost in their own technological brilliance, pursuing a "look at what we can do now" approach that owes more to impressing peers than to making a meaningful connection with people.

The answer for all of us probably lies in the transfer market and some good old-fashioned cross-pollination of playing styles. It's great to see planning growing as a discipline within digital companies and wonderful to see creative thinkers from digital shops appear in the corridors of places we sometimes unfairly label traditional agencies. But, ultimately, the real breakthroughs will come when we stop drawing these lines and applying labels, and focus instead on thinking of ideas that simply solve problems.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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