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We need to work towards making our wonderful immersive and integrated digital future a reality

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, either. We’re not going to enter a period of relative calm during which 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.

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.”

It’s this blunt reality we’ve yet to come to terms with. Just as we place more demands on infrastructure and society, with new gadgets, systems and fashions every year, the likelihood we’ll be able to support this profusion of new toys becomes less. The recent ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ report from the Sustainability Commission made it clear that technical fixes alone won’t see us through, as any improvements in our technology are swamped by the more rapid growth in take-up. Clearly we’re not going to go back to living in yurts, so we do need to get this right.

So looking to the next few years, and considering where I think we should be focusing more of our creative endeavours, we need to work towards making our wonderful immersive and integrated digital future a reality (I do love this stuff after all). But 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 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 it. Secondly the ubiquity of tools developed to enable listening made it impossible to ignore the conversations going on.

The same now needs to happen for sustainability. We can’t implement change if we don’t first know what’s going on. Rather than just advertising our green credentials, we need to understand the direct impact of our communications and the much wider impact through the purchasing decisions of individual customers.

Social media and digital don’t provide the answers, but they could make it possible to more quickly find some creative ways forward.

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Published 23 September, 2009 by NMA Staff

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