by Ernie Schenck
I don’t know if anyone will ever read this. I don't know if anyone reads anymore. Not in 2057. I’ve heard there are still a few books left. Hidden away in monasteries. Hidden from the world. It’s all so damn ironic. Like it’s the Dark Ages or something. Which in a sad way, I suppose it is.
Still, I feel I should write it down. What happened. How the technology got away from us. How it turned into something we never imagined it would. Or could.
Ted saw it coming, of course. Most of us weren’t so prescient. And who could have blamed us. Ted was a lunatic. Worse, Ted was a criminal. Worse still. A murderer. And we tend not to put a whole lot of credence into the diatribes of murderers. Or lunatics. Especially a lunatic like The Unabomber.
Say what you will about Ted Kaczynski though, and you could say a lot, the dude called it. Saw it creeping up over the horizon like a pregnant storm cloud. What technology would do to us. What it would do to all of us. Including those of us who used to work in advertising. The machines do that now.
I’ve often wondered what Ted would have made of all this.
I wish I could sit down with him. Talk with him. Ask him questions. Crazy as he was, maybe somewhere lodged away in some far corner of that God-forsaken broken mind of his, there was some core truth, as we used to say in the business.
Me: Ted, how did this happen?
Ted: You mean, how did you advertising people lose your relevance? Kind of inevitable wasn’t it? I mean, it was coming at you from all sides. Twitter here. Facebook there. There’s an app for that. Congratulations, you are now three days away from becoming the mayor! SMS. RSS. Analytics over intuition. Numbers over poetry. Geocaching. Unbelievable. What you never asked yourselves is, what if the cost of technology, that practically thinks for itself, are people who increasingly can’t?
Me: But hasn’t technology always been blamed for poisoning our brains? I mean, comic books were accused of turning juveniles into delinquents in the 1950s. Yet, crime was falling to record lows. And video games. Back in the 1990s, you’d have thought Nintendo was singlehandedly responsible for violent crime. But crime actually plummeted. Same with television, transistor radios and rock videos. Rot our minds? If that’s true, why did IQ scores rise, go shooting through the roof?
Ted: That’s easy. IQ scores went up because visual acuity and abstract problem-solving started developing. Truth to tell, overall intelligence, including verbal skill, vocabulary, basic arithmetic, memorization, critical reading and general knowledge, have all been stagnant or declining.
Me: OK, but our technology was a good thing. It opened everything up for us. The creative canvas got so much bigger. It gave us microsites and viral videos and transmedia narratives and QR codes and...
Ted: Don’t you see it? Advertising was an art form. You guys told stories. You made people laugh. Sometimes you made them cry. Maybe actually feel something sometimes. You did that with your heart. And the best of what you did, you did with ideas. Really good ideas that had a real truth inside them. Then you know what you did. You invited the scientists to the party. Being scientists, they brought all these cool gadgets into the house. Look what this can do. Is that cool or what!? And then you say stuff like, yeah that's cool and all but, um, where's the idea? And they look at you like you got a couple of extra heads and say, “the idea?” The idea is that it’s cool. Well, you know what happened next. Cool got too big for its britches. Started taking over. Pretty soon, the fire started going out. Ideas? Thinking? Feeling? I mean, who needed you guys when we had a bunch of servers and a couple of million kids with pimples writing code.
Me: That’s not what happened, Ted.
Ted: Then what did?
Me: We did. We’re what happened. Not the Internet. Not technology. They were awesome tools. But that’s all they were. Tools. It’s not technology that’s responsible for what happened to us. We are. We got lazy. Ideas take time. They’re hard sometimes. The great ones are. Always have been. But the shiny thing came along and oh man did we get dazzled. So blinded by the shininess that we let it become the idea, as if it could be that. It wasn’t. But it was cool and that was all that mattered to some of us. The technology wasn’t wrong, Ted. We were. CA