Graphic illustration: ©James Bareham

2016: The Year We’ll Learn to Love Technology

Maybe this is the year we’ll become less frightened and more enlightened about the benefits of connected technology.

Back in November of 2014, I was discussing the general state of the creative industry with a great writer and friend of mine, Graham Scott, who at the time was bemoaning how “technology had killed his career.” “And now it’s going to save it!” I rather over-enthusiastically retorted. Though I still stand by that statement, as we approach the end of 2015 it’s hard to deny that my enthusiastic embrace of digital technology seems to be increasingly in the minority.

While the imminent “death” of the publishing industry has been discussed ad nauseam, it strikes me that the argument is often rather one sided. It goes like this: “The Internet” has made it possible for the once paying public to read content for nothing, which in turn has systematically destroyed the careers of countless writers — and photographers, artists, musicians, designers, and pretty much any anyone else who does anything remotely “creative” — along with it.

And it’s not just individuals whose creative careers are suffering. Many companies (publishing houses; advertising and design agencies; even multi-billion dollar media empires) are also having to come to terms with ever dwindling revenue streams as a direct result of the ever increasing pervasive power of the internet.

In the 21 years since Netscape Navigator — the first commercial Internet browser — went live in 1994, we’ve seen the launch of Google (1998); Facebook (2004); YouTube (2005); Twitter (2006); Netflix streaming (2007); Instagram (2010); and a plethora of other digital platforms and apps that allow billions of people around the globe to freely consume content — creative or otherwise — in ways that were previously unimaginable to all but a few technological boffin types and forward-thinking sci-fi authors.

If anything, this rapid pace of technological change is still accelerating. As a consequence, a growing number of people are suggesting that we need to slow down and ask ourselves whether we’re building these new technological marvels because we can, not because we should.

Who can deny that taking a moment to consider the broader social and economic consequences of rampant technological change sounds like a damn fine idea? Certainly not me. But that is still only half of the argument. What’s missing is a broad, balanced and frank discussion about how the very technology that is blamed for destroying so many creative careers can be successfully harnessed to create new ones.

Over the past year, I’ve been having that very conversation with everyone and anyone who would listen. It’s still very much a work in progress, but it has already convinced me that despite the very real challenges, those of us (yes, I very much consider myself to be one of those affected) who are striving to find new ways in which to reinvent ourselves to remain relevant in this brave new digital world, actually have a few reasons to feel reasonably optimistic.

Contrary to the mutterings of some commentators out there in the digital ether, I would argue that in many ways, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a creative. Of any kind. There have never been more words written and read; photographs taken and viewed, videos filmed and watched, music performed and listened to; or art created and wondered at, by more people in the entire history of humanity.

Yes, the rising tide of digital technology has directly or indirectly destroyed many careers; yes, we all have to find new ways to monetise our work; and yes, that’s going to be far from easy. But it’s certainly not impossible. After all, it’s not like we’re going through this on our own: There are literally millions of people who are also trying to figure this out, and many of them will have ideas and inspiration to share. Maybe by engaging and collaborating, we can find at least a few of the answers that so many of us are looking for.

I’m not exactly predicting that 2016 will be the year in which more of us learn to love the technological revolution — last year I confidently stated that everyone would be wearing an Apple Watch by now and look how that turned out. But as 2015 draws to a close, it’s certainly my hope for 2016. Perhaps this is the year that more of us will grudgingly embrace technology and forgive it for all the bad things it did when we weren’t paying enough attention. After all, even though it may not be able to save everyone’s creative career, it may at least connect them with someone who just might.

Happy New Year.

Digital Illustration by James Bareham

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