I've been attending a number of "communications industry" events recently. Actually I have been swamped with invitations to attend, or talk, or chair so many that it made me ask an industry organiser how many they had scheduled. "Well, we have at least 120 events a year" came the answer. I asked another industry backbone support group, "Upwards of 80 a year." came the answer.
I'll wager there's an ad/marketing/digital/tech seminar, talk, conference, festival, presentation - you name it - every single day.
However many there are, there are more than ever before.
In the last 8 weeks I've been to ISBA functions, IPA meetings, Marketing Society presentations, Digital Fests, Investor Shows, Tech Gigs, Ad Agency Brainstorms, Innovation socials, Academic Lectures, hell, I've even opened a round table discussion in Downing Street on "Enterprise Britain". All this, and I've been reporting the BFI London Film Festival for Digital Cinema Media and, of course, the Huffington Post. (Oh and doing my day job at Fearlessly Frank)
But it all amounts to something.
The ingredients are, in no particular order: baying digital mavens slagging off advertising agencies; crowing admen claiming new thinking supports old fashioned big TV spends; an unspoken consensus that creativity has been lost in the technology rush; a re-evaluation of the power of celebrity; an organisational Rubik's cube as businesses are trying to blend the oil of digital with the water of pre-1992 advertising; a cry of "math men", a collapse of "mad men"; a worship of data; a frenzy of apps; a stampede of wannabe entrepreneurs; nervous investors; toaster tech stocks; conflicting research; skeptical CEOs; cynical journalists...it goes on.
Clearly, something is happening.
I think it's this.
We have come to the end of Part 1 of The Internet. The civilian Internet is twenty-one years old. It's screamed change, distributed crap, fallen over, scraped its knees, watched more porn than one might think possible, learnt a phenomenal amount, spoken non-stop, dated prodigiously and developed impressive muscle.
It's now grown up.
Standing back we can see that it has flowered into something we didn't initially see or imagine. It is not a Business Tool, after all. It is a physiological need every bit as important as eating and sleeping. Life without the Internet (is it actually possible now?) seems unthinkable and devastating, in a way that life without TV, Radio or Print thirty years ago wouldn't have been. It would just have been... weird.
Argumentative factions forming around Data, Digital, Creativity and Innovation are squaring up to each other in a fight that has no rewards and few spectators.
They are facing the wrong direction.
What we need now are the Thinkers. We need the people who are genuinely diagnosing what's happened, not from the narrow confines of board rooms or even marketing departments, but in a wider sociological way.
Consumer behaviour has changed much more fundamentally than business behaviour. And that's the real issue.
The world is irrevocably changed. People are communing in new and fascinating ways and enjoying a different type of conversation.
The physiological dependency we now have on the Internet is as big a leap in human evolution as the opposable thumb. We see further, do more, think faster.
The arrival of commercial TV and Radio spawned big thinkers who focused on the potential of emergent communications: McLuhan, Levitt, Packard et al. It's time to build out from the foundations they laid down and go further.
Businesses need to step back from marketing, R&D and HR for a moment and think about how the Internet has altered their status quo and why so often they fail to outsmart the myriad upstarts.
Reaching out to the net as if it were, for example, simply a marketing tool, is like discovering you had an opposable thumb and only enjoying the benefits of sticking it up your backside.