Screens Down

Renny Gleeson is Wieden + Kennedy’s global director of digital strategy. As such, he’s jacked in to the machine big time. Yet, he remains just distant enough to see himself.

There is something beautiful, terrifying and powerful about the rise of ambient intimacy, and our willing adoption of the latest and greatest tools to feed it. We feed it with our hearts and souls like a confessional booth after a Las Vegas bender, but occasionally forget that every wry observation and catty tweet is now searchable, indexable and forever.
But seeing is not knowing. Telling alone does not create understanding. And the fact I can’t actually deal with the immediacy of a restaurant until I’ve “checked in” in pursuit of my “Crunked’ badge is…well, a little sad.

There’s a wicked downside to ambient awareness and the always on reality of mobile devices. I like to call it not being present. Let’s say you decide to leave your laptop and mobile phone in your office so you can attend a meeting and be fully present. The data cloud is so pervasive in our interlinked-through-text-and-pictures-life that what’s in those devices still has its hold on you–you’re sitting there thinking about emails and so on. It’s craziness.
Yet Gleeson hopes to see “technology that enhances our humanity, and deepens our connections, rather than reduces our rich world of experience to 140 character bleats.” He imagines a future where one’s thoughts would generate an action or reaction. For instance, if you told your followers on Twitter that you’re feeling blue, it might trigger the sending of flowers.
When I consider “technology that enhances our humanity, and deepens our connections,” I think of the huge gains in transportation and communications–the train, the airplane, the telephone and yes, the personal computer. Facebook and Twitter don’t rank in this grouping, they are subsets of advances made in personal computing.
It is fun to dream up futuristic scenarios enabled by humanistic technology, but to be honest I’m in the mood for a different kind of human-tech advancement. I want to see real progress in this country, not another cool iPhone App.
We desperately need high speed rail to connect our major cities; a new power grid capable of transferring energy made from the sun and from wind; and we need to grow industrial hemp for fiber. The list goes on and on, but these are things I want to work on.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.