It’s exhausting stuff keeping up with this digital lark. Just when you think you’ve got to grips with the latest technological media revolution, along comes a hugely disruptive new demand for social understanding and sharing or the need to tap into some exciting new cultural meme.
Things aren’t going to slow down. We’re not going to enter a period of relative calm where we can take stock, get to grips with the changes that have already happened and work out how best to exploit them. Faster, faster is all we can expect.
You only need to look at the wave of new technologies on the horizon; ubiquitous computing, augmented reality, GPS and the long overdue blossoming of mobile to see we’ll have plenty of new toys to play with.
However even as the relentless march of technology seems pre-ordained, we can’t and shouldn’t take all of this for granted. Adam Greenfield at the beginning of his visionary book ‘Everyware’ caveats this whole enterprise with;
“Every argument in this book is, at root, predicated on the continuing existence and vitality of our highly energy-intensive technological civilization. This book should not be construed as a statement of belief that our current way of life is in fact sustainable.”
Its this blunt reality that we’ve yet to come to terms with. Just as we place more and more demands on infrastructure and society, with new gadgets, systems and fashions every year, the likelihood that we’ll be able to support this profusion of new toys becomes less and less likely. Ever increasing energy demands just can't go on unabated.
‘Prosperity Without Growth’ report from the Sustainable Development Commission made it
clear, that technical fixes alone will not see us through, as any improvements
in the efficiencies of our technology are currently swamped by the much more
rapid growth in uptake. Demand so far always outstrips supply.
So looking to the next few years, and considering where I think we should be focusing more of our creative endeavors; clearly we're not just going to walk away from our modern way of life (we’re not going to go back to living in yurts anytime soon), so if we want to keep our toys we're going to need to devote just as much creative energy to finding low-carbon ways of living, as we currently do to making our wonderfully immersive and integrated digital future a reality. In doing so each of us also will have to radically reappraise our individual and collective role and impact within our hugely productive and consumptive economy.
One of the impacts of a broader adoption of social technologies and indeed the long-term impact of digital technology as a whole is that it makes the entire process of production and consumption much more transparent.
Social media was able to take off for a number of reasons, not least the realisation that we could make money out of this, secondly the ubiquity of tools developed to enable listening made it impossible to ignore the conversations going on.
Just as a vast ecosystem of social listening and tracking technologies and agencies has sprung up over the past couple of years; the same now
needs to happen for sustainability.
This may be from specialist agencies like our sister agency in Aegis, Clownfish who have been knee deep in this stuff for the past 5 years. Equally just as we've seen with Social, more fundamental shifts will come when each of us finds how we can play our own role.
How do we measure the carbon impact within our communications planning process, what role does search and social play in tapping into the right conversations, how do we shift our creative and strategic minds from hiding the bad bits towards informing the product development process?
We can’t implement change if we don’t first know what is going on. Rather than just advertising our green credentials as is the current norm, we need to first listen and learn what’s really happening; to understand the real direct impact of our communications, and the much wider impact through the purchasing decisions of individual customers.
The ways that we've learned how to appropriately communicate and get involved in the conversation through social and digital don’t provide all the answers, but they could provide models for how we can do the same for changing attitudes and behaviours around sustainability.
(A version of this post originally appeared in New Media Age.)