Just back from Thinking Digital Manchester. And the over-riding message was for us to all turn off our devices and go and do something more interesting instead.

Yes! From a digital conference!! You don’t go to digital events expecting to be told to go off-grid and head for the hills, but the most awe inspiring speakers in Manchester seemed to do just that.

Whether it was “digital obesity” from Eddie Obeng, Stephen Waddington talking about the Internet being full of sh*t or Tom Chatfield warning that all our time risks becoming the “same”, the loud and clear message throughout was that the digital (marketing) industry needs to take a proper look at itself in the mirror – because it’s getting kind of ugly.

Graeme Park lamented the early days of being a house DJ when he was the only one in the UK with an acetate copy of a track: which would be prized, cherished and special. LJ Rich hosted an amazing, immersive digital experience with us all popping space dust, but then afterwards showed me her treasured possession – a lovingly drawn and scribbled in notebook. Pam Warhurst told us all to take up gardening and properly make a difference.

I’m reading a great book at the moment about about silos (The Silo Effect by Gillian Tett): it takes an anthropological look at how tribal ties can cause us all to “think the same” – and end up blind. Slavishly following digital opportunities like most of us do (substituting easy questions for hard ones, as Chatfield says) is taking us deep into our very own grain tower.

The best minds of our generation are thinking about how to make people click ads (Jeff Hammerbacher, via Chatfield). And Facebook is built to be addictive (and at the end of the day, when we’re feeling tired and wanting love, social media gives us some of that). And the current crop of house DJs may be technically excellent but they’re often copying – and playing with – what every other house DJ is doing. Because there’s no scarcity any more. Because they can.

It was all alright to start with, back in the 1990s: a few cool kids round the digital water cooler. But now everyone’s there. And people are banging the doors down just to get in. And everyone is shouting – just to be heard. If we’re not very, very careful, no-one will be enjoying this digital party any more (I’m not just talking to you, Twitter, but trying to be like everyone else is a case in point).

In the photo by the way, is the University of Manchester’s new Chancellor Lemn Sissay. He gave a great talk steeped in performance, poetry and humour, that tapped into an amazing life story and truly connected with the audience. Now that’s what “social” content should all be about.

It’s time to go back to our roots.




Jemima Gibbons

Social media consultant and author of Monkeys with Typewriters (featured by BBC Radio 5 and the London Evening Standard). Get your social marketing up and running with my Social Media Launch Pack!

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