Social Media 2010 Legacy 1 – Connectivity and Isolation

So, it is December 2010. Christmas is coming. And, as a load of snow is dumped on us, I have been reflecting on how the world has changed in 2010.

For I do think that, although 1984 and 2001 were going to be world-changing years, 2010 actually was. The likes of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, smart phones and MP3 players have come of age – and tablets will become increasingly accepted as competition drives down price. I know some of these businesses started in the last decade, the last century even, but I do believe the year 2010 has defined them – and they have defined 2010.

 No doubt, countless print and online articles are being written right now as we move into 2011. I am not the best person to add to the mass of information that will hit us as we approach the New Year. But I am sure technology will be a recurring theme.

I now realise my opening sentence is wrong already. I haven’t been reflecting on how the world has changed. I have been reflecting on how my world has changed.

Why should this be of any interest to anyone else?

Well, professionally, for various reasons and circumstances that I did not foresee (or want) my career has not developed in the way many would have predicted.

This has opened my eyes to a real world out there that I would not have experienced had my career path been more conventional. I think I can claim a unique perspective on our society from top to bottom and from good to bad.

How can I say this?

Well, since the beginning of my career at Ogilvy & Mather in 1979, a close friend of mine was made a peer this year and others have made millions, some hundreds of millions, of pounds. One has three aeroplanes, two of which take-off and land in his back garden. However, another friend broke his neck in a motor racing accident and has been paralysed from the neck down for 30 years. Without extraordinary medical technology, he would not be with us now. How and why do the dice fall this way?

More recently, earlier this week, I found myself with a poor old lady who was clearly severely disabled and in chronic pain. We were both awaiting a medical examination and told, after two hours in uncomfortable and unforgiving chairs, that the clinic had run out of time. We would have to re-arrange our appointments – and go home.

This was Tuesday, the first day of this week’s frozen weather. This lady, who could barely walk, had taken a train from Coulsdon to Purley, changed to Clapham Junction and then taken a bus to the clinic. Now she had to undergo the reverse procedure having not been seen by a doctor. And all to be repeated in two weeks for her re- arranged appointment.

Of course, I had driven there in my fancy car and parked less than 100 yards away. Concerned about her slipping on the ice, I offered her an umbrella from my car as a walking stick but her pride forced her to refuse. She shuffled and slid into the dark. I hope she’s ok. It has worried me all week. Should I have offered her a lift? Oh dear.

Who is looking after people like this lady? I couldn’t. Politicians and policies won’t. What humanity was shown by the Government-employed medics, for whom we had waited so needlessly not to see? The answer is none. They just wanted to get home. It’s cold outside.

I accept this small experience could have happened to any of us. I don’t know why but, in my life, it has happened to me more than most of us with ‘business careers’.

Perhaps because of this, the thought struck me that while my day had been spent online, on email and Facebook and Linked In and Twitter, connecting with people, this lady may not have connected with anyone at all, all day. She was alone. Ok, we were alone together in an inhospitable waiting room – but we are a world apart.

I said I have seen good and bad and, again, I think I can claim mine to have been a unique journey – certainly in our line of business.

I have been exposed to corporate corruption, financial fiddling and nasty little cheats who have got away with it – unpunished. I have seen the human effect of their cheap scams and met people whose careers, and lives, have been broken by these crooks. I tried to stand up to it, but where has that got me? A lot of money, yes, but I have never worked for a big agency again – not for the want of trying.

At the other end of the moral scale, I have met good people and seen great work, not just business and creative work, but good work and good works in charities and in the community where the depth of human kindness has truly touched me.

This week, I watched two TV programmes that support the case I am about to argue.

The Secret Millionaire features the exposure of rich people to the real lives of people living among us in a completely different world from that which we enjoy. Every time I see it, I cannot believe that these filthy rich people are so ignorant of the filthy, scary, violent world that pervades so much of our society.

Age of Do-Gooders, presented by Ian Hislop, showed the likes of William Wilberforce refusing to accept the lives of the ‘underclass’ and forcing through real social change on a scale that reveals how the shallow, and totally uncreative, slogans of ‘change’ thrown out by today’s politicians are part of the game of deception they live by.

William Wilberforce? The Slave Trade Act was passed through Parliament in 1807.

Two hundred years later, who matches him? Mandela, for sure. Who else? I hope, in the next decade, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the billion-dollar-boys will join him. They are our only hope. It won’t be our second-rate politicians, that’s for sure.

So, as A Different Hat, I have been trying to carve this space where the commercial media and marketing worlds meet the real world outside and where, somehow, the skills employed within our industries can be used to a wider, social benefit – and not just the relatively trivial commercial products we promote for our livings.

And, it seems to me, that – despite all the talk of quantitative easing and benefit cuts and our young students facing a lifetime of the debt that today’s politicians are so keen to denounce yet, hypocritically, foist upon them – there must be hope.

And my hope is this. It is very simple. The connectivity which those of us who work in marketing and the media find relatively easy to adopt becomes increasingly available to those who need it – rather than just those of us who enjoy it.

This is the first of three 2010 legacy posts and I will return to this theme.

In the meantime, this quote by Mark Read, WPP Digital’s chief executive, quoted by Brand Republic supports my retrospective view of 2010:

“As Facebook has surpassed the half-billion-users milestone, and is effectively the third largest country in the world, it is no longer a matter of if brands should have a presence on Facebook, but how they can be successful.”

As a society, the next challenge is to make this technology work for the benefit of everybody – and not just because Bill Gates has made so much money out of it.

In 2010, a neat number, the world has turned.