Media Perspective: The present doesn't look like I thought it would 15 years ago

The first time I ever wrote something in Campaign must have been about 1994. I was asked to write something about some ads we'd just done for Greene King featuring an e-mail response mechanism.

You were supposed to e-mail in and "participate" in the idea of the ad and it was so novel that quite a few people did - I think it was the first time anyone had ever put an e-mail address on a TV commercial.

I can't remember what I wrote then but I bet it was full of Messianic zeal about the inevitable tide of change that was going to sweep over advertising. And probably not just advertising - probably the whole sweep of human affairs.

Because even before we did that ad, from the first moment I got off CompuServe and on to the wilder, woollier web, I remember feeling like something had just changed, that all sorts of human connections and communications had been irrevocably shifted by the arrival of the internet. I guess I've felt like that for 15 years. And it's only in the past couple of months that I've realised that I was wrong.

All that time I've been behaving like the world's changed and that all we have to do is adapt to that change - to work out all its implications and incorporate them into our lives and businesses. But that's clearly not true.

And I read the best expression of its not trueness last week on a blog post by the designer Frank Chimero: "We break stuff before we know what replaces it, and we invent things before we know what they're for."

That feels just about perfect, doesn't it? That's what's going on now. We've broken all sorts of business models - journalism, advertising, direct mail - and we're not quite sure what's going to replace them.

We've got all these lovely new tools - mobiles, social networking, augmented reality - and, though they definitely seem important and intriguing, we don't really have any idea what we're supposed to be doing with them. We don't know what they're for.

Which, frankly, has got me all excited again. Because I also remember thinking that all this internet stuff was going to create an interesting ten or 20 years and that then a new generation of people would be in place running things and it would all settle down.

And that's not happening, is it? An entire generation of digital agencies has grown up, spawned start-ups of their own and they don't look any smarter or certain of what's round the corner than their traditional ancestors. And that's rather invigorating.

My only hope? Clay Shirky's new book arrived this morning and he's normally a good guide to the unexpected. I shall report back next week.

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