Growing Up Digital — musings on the early years of the www and the people behind the industry that made it.
When you are born digital, your life is measured in pixels and bites. You can discover J.D. Salinger in neon Comic Sans, spend 3.5 hours downloading Stairway to Heaven at a 32 bit rate, and admire a Warhol as your tiled desktop image in Windows 95. You color your first picture in MS Paint, learn about music in MIDI bleeps and bloops, and publicize your feelings in clunky poetry on LiveJournal. It’s far from perfect, but it’s as real as anything you’d see in a library, museum, or classroom. When you are born digital, you experience the world a little different.
You have probably broken up with people over AOL messenger and you write some of your best stuff over text. Without emoji, your friends might not have any idea how much they mean to you. When your sister moves to LA, it won’t really matter, because you’ll feel just as close when you Facetime every Saturday morning. With your dogs. Hungover. Not your dogs, you and her.
When you are in your early twenties in the early two thousands and are working your way up in a marketing department or a creative department of a digital agency, then your first tweet might say something like, “workin.” You might be experiencing Facebook for the first time, even though your younger siblings have been on it for years, but you definitely know that there is a change happening to your internet. You certainly welcome the social change that is occurring as Napster has been gone for years, Friendster shit the bed and myspace is a damn nightmare. You don’t really know where this thing is going quite yet, but you know it is going.
When you are born digital, you see the value in understanding the culture that surrounds things and brands. And you live it. You wear those Kostens and you create internet cat memes. Or you at least laugh at them. You are absolutely the guest, the customer, the audience and my personal favorite, the user. You yourself are that culture.
Your first cellphone was blue and it was a nokia and you dropped it at least 9,000 times on dirty concrete house-party floors. And it worked just fine. You also have dropped and cracked every version of the iPhone. And it wasn’t just fine, but you were. With purchasing a new one, every six months or so.
You will spend the next few years thinking about in game marketing, and how end caps meet social media and you will continue to find true and real ways for brands to connect with people. You will forget about making print ads or marketing sites because you will become so engrossed with how technology can better people’s lives. You will come up with ideas that use scanners, and #’s and facial recognition technologies. You’ve certainly seen a devaluation of traditional advertising. You’ve watched brands be absolutely comfortable spending large parts of their budgets on billboards, tv spots and even websites that don’t provide value. You have been questioning the return on investment for some time now, but you wonder how everyone else can’t be questioning the same things.
You will have spent countless hours convincing project managers to convince account executives to convince strategists and planners to convince clients to re-think wanting a micro-site for a new arm of their business. You will have seen names, logos, copy and great design and smart ideas sit idle in an old Moleskin. And you will page back through those notebooks from time to time, fondly, proud, and super fucking disappointed.
You will see simple ideas get overly complicated until the point of non-recognition, but you will still keep pushing for what you know is right for the brand. You know because you love that brand. You use that product and if your creative director wants you to find a way to make others love that brand as much as you do, then you will find a way because you know that there is something authentic and real there in that affection. Or is there?
Perhaps you will just go back to your desk and work on sketching out your dream home or complain to friends on messenger. Oh yeah you will definitely do that and maybe you’ll even step away from the blue glow for enough time to realize that you gotta get outta there.