Fresh from the G20, so might be a bit of overclaim. Yet the ‘dodge-it-all’ bandwagon carries on apace, with #digitalbritain trending top on Twitter on Friday. Gordon gets digital, it says on the live feed twitter fail, lampooned so cruelly in the Telegraph. But the politicians aren’t saying very much really, other than now that the rest of the economy is fucked, it’s down to the digital economy to save the nation. Give or take an embarrassing email or two. Does that sound familiar to anyone in agency land?
I think there’s a problem defining the digital economy. Sly Bailey thinks it is EVIL. And is DESTROYING JOURNALISM, along with local councils whose efforts to publish Redbridge council newsletters should be BANNED. Lord Mandelson thinks it is the infrastructure and investment backbone the nation needs to prepare for the future. The Chinese government thinks it a means to take over the world. Will Hutton says the Long Tail is nonsense and we are slipping relentlessly towards a disturbing world of enormous monopolies. Lord Carter thinks it should spawn new business models. Lord knows how that’s going to happen whilst the majority of the consultative process takes place with the institutional behemoths of telecoms, media and technology.
And poor Stephen Fry – his ‘internet should be like driving’ analogy was rather shot down in flames, apposite given Mandelson’s efforts to bail out the flailing ‘British’ car industry. There is a serious debate to be had about digital skills, which lost its way on the day in the crossfire of opinion about how the education system doesn’t teach critical thinking anyway. Expecting teenagers to apply thoughtful analysis to web browsing habits is ignorant to the point of ridiculous. Note to self – distinguish between the development of creative and technical skills that school the talent that will keep the nation great from the general IT literacy and media literacy content of the national curriculum that will help the nation keep up.
Funnily enough, this digital conference diversity reflects the agency world quite well. Two schools of though are forming. Introducing, in the blue corner, the ‘old’. Without true expertise and effort to create new models of thinking, working and creating, this group will truck along into a state of blissful monopoly and lowest economic denominator of quality and nostalgia, until Google one day does swallow up WPP, Havas or indeed Trinity Mirror. And in the red corner, welcome the ‘new’ challengers who will reshape the way business is done, who seamlessly move between code and creativity in their arguments. What can we learn from the experiences of the digital agencies? There’s a decent body of people out there that really understand the digitisation of media, the democratization of content and on-demand business. Wouldn’t you rather hear from someone with ten years experience of articulating the value of user experience versus brand positioning, at the coalface of digital strategy?
Then there’s the third corner, the purply beige regulator, who looks at the ‘big picture’ of protecting the establishment whilst claiming to encourage innovation. As anyone involved in the start up scene will tell you, you don’t get much help with the latter from this government. Hats off to the founders of Bebo and Lastminute who’ve just set up an angel fund to support innovative businesses, identifying a real gap in the market for the micro-business community of new ideas. I’m an enormous fan of innovation, but short of the occasional social media start up, we aren’t seeing very much of it reported at the moment across Brand Republic. Yes, economic consolidation is a blunt instrument, bashing the experimental with the tried and tested.
Don’t take pioneer status for granted. Get involved in the Digital Britain debate. It’s more important than you think. For a start, you can follow the #unconference we’re putting together by searching #dbuc or @dbuc [ok, so you need to be on twitter for that]. Alternatively, contribute to the Fake Digital Britain report here, and test your digital literacy skills to the full. Beats writing to your MP.
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