Are we ready to enter the Age of Onlinetenment?

Heading towards an Age of Onlinetenment

Last week Jinal Shah, a Digital Strategist at JWT, shared an essay with her friends titled, 2012: A Year of Digital Behavioral Shifts. It’s a great piece and Jinal puts together a strong case for changing the way we operate online, with a renewed focus on thinking, rather than just sharing, liking and retweeting. She believes this new era is upon us, calling it the age of enlightenment in our digital history. This transformation will be led by:

[…] thinkers, artists and storytellers not programmers and geeks. These are people driven by a vision that’s a bit more individualistic, centers more around exploring the tapestry of human opinions, intimacy and feelings instead of connecting the world into one large immutable being.

And what will this lead to? According to Jinal: a mindful web… systems that:

1. Are designed for constructive debate and dialogue by exposing us to different points of views
2. Are designed for quality and intimacy – not quantity. Where there is less immediate gratification.

It’s a compelling vision and one I wholeheartedly support. But it’s also a big task. The simple truth is that the vast, vast majority of people aren’t interested in changing their behavior. They enjoy the relatively simple gamification elements of Foursqaure and the ability to express their opinions view a digital ‘thumbs up.’  Even when viewed at the micro level, exploring just the world of marketers that both Jinal and I are part of, it’s evident that not everyone is interested in exploring the new possibilities.

And yet, I’m literally inundated by the highly intelligent thinking of people in our industry who are committed to building something better, to thinking deeper and exploring ideas that are challenging. From Tim Stock to Justin Briggs to countless others the issue is how do we build the type of web Jinal is talking about that will not only connect all these great people and ideas, but allow them to be connected in a meaningful way?  How does an idea I write about, say, The Cultural Singularity Paradox connect or build upon an idea like Interdependence, Chomsky and the crowbar by Eaon Pritchard, a winner of Neil Perkin’s Post of the Month Hall of Fame?

I think we still need the “programmers and tinkerers and computer scientists,” the builders of the web’s Industrial Age according to Shah. We need them to continue to build, but this time to build a web that intelligently connects and combines the work of those that will create the Age of “Onlinetenment” (my term, not Shah’s).

In her book, Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal relates the story of Halo 3 and the collaborative effort to record 10 billion kills by game players. How can the marketing industry create that sort of collaborative effort?  On the subject of games, a subject I’m passionate about, Shah says, “Gaming will have a larger role to play in the age of enlightenment, but perhaps not so overt. It’s job will and should become about elevating the meaning and importance associated with a like, number of friends and followers etc.”

And while that’s important, I think gaming can play a bigger, more important role in a different way. Games can solve bigger problems than improving the meaning of the quantitative issues Shah mentions. Games can be used to rally people (marketers?) to work for a common cause, to unite for a single purpose greater than themselves. That’s something I think we could use. Rather than everyone writing and thinking in isolation, we need to figure out how to write and think together. When that happens maybe we will enter the Age of Onlinetenment.