A view from Johnny Vulkan

Perspective: Let's enjoy the tech orgy, but we need to ask what it's for too

A couple of weeks ago, I read another provocative piece by Jonathan Harris, the creator of wefeelfine.org and several other data-inspired social art projects.

Deeply entrenched in every aspect of our continuing digital revolution, he also manages to remain detached enough to observe and comment on its impact.

He made several points that I'll knowingly plagiarise, bastardise and hopefully build upon.

The first stemmed from an observation made by a friend of his at SXSW. Surrounded by hundreds of the smartest people in emerging media, she noted that many still chose to socialise via their devices rather than in person. She felt they were more engrossed in head-down activity, and maybe where the next Foursquare swarm would happen or what the commentary was on Twitter, than engaging face to face.

A second observation built on that. Among all these genuinely brilliant minds, she noted the boundless optimism and sense of possibility that existed in what technology can enable next - a sense that I share - but one where she also suggested there was something missing: wisdom, and a sense of what it was all for.

Which led to the final, most provocative observation. Jonathan likens our current gorging on new technology to the fast-food revolution of the 50s. We can have more "good stuff", faster than ever before, but we aren't really looking at what the midto long-term implications may be.

Of course, evolution suggests that things will shake themselves out and each of us will have different socio-political views on how this should or shouldn't be managed, but I think the health of our society depends on it.

His piece also mentions that there is an increase in women complaining that their tech-obsessed boyfriends now struggle with physical intimacy. Meanwhile, in Korea and China, the incidence of "online addiction" now has government-funded programmes built to address it. Of course, none of us find ourselves hooked - checking e-mails in meetings, updating statuses continually or checking into venues while at the same time checking out of the moment. Do we?

I love technology and sign up for a "beta" anything to find out what it could be or do. I buy or borrow every gadget as soon as it is launched, but I also increasingly ask "why?". A question not just for the technologies themselves but for how we as citizens and then marketers should relate to them.

At our best, we can use them to create valuable communications that help people make informed choices about the things they buy and how they may spend their time. At our worst, we are guilty of contributing to digital landfill, spending client money on "trendy" transitory moments and concepts, fleeting artifacts of wasteful thought without asking one simple, wise question. Why?

- Johnny Vulkan is a partner at Anomaly.

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