From across a vast expanse of cluttered wasteland, a voice rings out. “This is our world now.”
Joined at once by thousands of others, “You profiteering gluttons.”
The remnants of what I once knew as culture lays at my feet.
Looking back, it seems obvious the result of… this. People make technology, technology makes people more powerful, people take control.
My guide gestures ahead. A short, terse fellow (I think) who knows all too well the war cries echoing around us. Were it yesterday, or perhaps tomorrow, he would echo their sentiment. But today, we are explorers, diggers, researchers, attempting to unearth the kernel of truth that answers the question, “why bother?”
As we quietly hurry through the littered remnants of the world I knew, glimpses of the past lay in every pile of refuse. I think to myself, “this was once a toilet paper factory. And that… that must have been the old stand where Walter sold newspapers.”
I become acutely aware that, once again, we are not alone. We have not been alone for more than a moment since we started our journey. Another scout, perhaps, or just an interested onlooker, zigs and zags through the maze behind us, scribbling something on a mobile device before darting away.
I can scarcely imagine growing up in a world like this, a willful anarchy of our own creation. When the first waves of resistance toppled the communications infrastructure we had meticulously crafted, from the newspapers to magazines to broadcasters, they built their own: blogs and independent news sources, Internet-based radio and television, “social” media. Well before the last cable was finally cut, they were speaking mainly to each other, inside their own echo chambers, rather than to us, or we to them.
It all seemed quaint, until they began to make demands. Their earliest were harmless – we ALL want a mobile device – in fact, we saw it as an advantage. The more connected people are, the easier it will be for us to control them. But when they started radicalizing – asking for products to be built a certain way, or with a certain feature, or in a certain place with certain manufacturing practices – we finally took notice. By this point, it was more than just the youth – it was everyone, from the remaining Boomers to their great grandkids.
As I use a discarded plastic straw from a fast food cup to turn over the bits of paper that are strewn across the ground, the language is familiar, yet foreign to me. It is mostly English, that much is sure, and plastered in outlined Impact type across an image it conveys a single, solitary idea. One simple message. This must be how they communicate.
It’s not unlike how we used to communicate a hundred years in the past, when you could boil down every great work of art or fiction into a single message. But instead of one work and one message impacting millions, the opposite seems true – the Z Generation scours millions of small truths to find the single one that conveys their thoughts or feelings. They pick the message, not us.
One thing I know for sure – if we are to take back advertising into the hands of its stewards of the past, we will need new principles: simplicity, raw personality, and tangible, unfabricated value. At the very least, we’ll have to create it through our advertising – finding big ideas that resonate, brand stories that are relevant. They can communicate through us, if they want.
My guide turns to me. “So, we are in control.”