Agencies & Brands Must Become 21st Century Literate

Alvin Toffler, the renowned futurist and author of Future Shock and Third Wave to name but a few examples of his groundbreaking body of work, is often cited as stating: “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.” These words actually came from Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy, and Toffler gives due credit in the text of Future Shock as he cites in full:

“The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction — how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.”

There is a lot more “instant knowledge” in the world today, and substantially less learning than there was when Toffler and his wife authored Future Shock in the 1960’s.

One of the more notable examples of how “knowing before learning” is manifesting itself is use of the phrase, “G-T-S”. It falls into a pool of language we call “verge vocabulary”, and it is driven by generational change and powerful technology placed in the hands of consumers.

For those of you who may not know, GTS stands for “Google That Shit” and it is typically used either in response to a question one is expected to know how to answer for themselves, or during “IRL” (In Real Life) conversations when a question surfaces that no one in close proximity in the physical world knows how to answer. However insignificant this all may seem, it represents a seismic shift in our behavior and willingness to understand rather than be understood.  Learning has nothing to do with the instant results we receive from search queries. Under the right circumstances, we would all consider it cheating.

This notion of retaining the willingness to “learn how to learn”, rather than embrace the equivalent of digital hedonism — the instant gratification that comes with powerful search tools like Google — has become a frequent topic of discussion among not only futurists, but also educators and technologists.

Undeniably, we all search. But do we all browse?  Do we all discover?  And do we really develop knowledge, or are we simply collecting information to immediately dispose of it once those micro moments of curiosity have passed?

Much has been made of the promises of “big data”.  Without question, data capture and collection is the first step toward decision-making. However, there is a surplus of data and we have lost respect for its value. We lack models and frameworks designed to evaluate it and therefore we are unable to develop insights based upon it. Leaping over insights will only perpetuate a lack of substantive thought applied to clients’ business challenges and extending incremental value to consumers in their everyday lives.

Data, data, data. . . but not a drop of insight. We must again take inventory of ourselves and our shared intent, and not forget about the importance of what humans bring to the world of advertising.  Otherwise we are simply observers of a media landscape that will soon be largely programmatic.

Observation and insight are two very different things.  GTS.

Video Source: Big Thinkers from ZDTV (later TechTV) TV series.

Jason Newport

Jason Newport is an accomplished Mobile, Digital, Social and Youth Marketing Subject Matter Expert. He is Head of Mobile Strategy at Aegis Media and also leads the 200+ member Reinvention Team, a global talent collective which draws on the massive resources inside and outside of the network to create modern, converged media solutions for clients. In 2013, Business Insider named Jason one of the Top 30 Most Creative People in Mobile Advertising.

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