My Final NMA Column – why I’m pre-post-digital and proud

I’ve been speaking to a few people recently and they didn’t know I had a column in New Media Age. Well now it’s too late, because I don’t any more.

My final column is here:

It’s a bit ranty, but I thought I should make a bit of an effort to be a gobby shite as it’s my last hoorah.

I was chatting to Russell about my column just after I’d submitted it, which prompted him to write this: A public apology for being one of the founders of the phrase.

It’s time to stop all the nonsense about trying to call this stuff this or that. Only thing that matters is whether it’s good or not. The only thing more stupid than all the word-monkeying is denying that technology, code and making things out of bits and bytes is important.

10 thoughts on “My Final NMA Column – why I’m pre-post-digital and proud”

  1. Hmm.

    I’ve read your piece, and Russell’s, and it seems like both of you are not necessarily arguing against the terminology. It seems like you’re arguing against the lazy application of buzzwords in advertising, in which case there’s really not much of a case to be made. The industry we work in often latches on to the next big thing in order to provide some kind of structure to an ecosystem in which the only real brief is ‘conceive of something and make it so’.

    Russell alluded to the fact that language evolves over time, and terminology applied to creativity is no different. I agree that post-digital is becoming a bit of an umbrella term for any instance in which it looks like the real world and the digital world may have brushed up against each other, but that’s just the march of language, innit. When Hoover became synonymous with ‘all vacuum cleaners’, it was massively unhelpful for anyone competing with Hoover. But it was a useful marker for most people to communicate what they meant quickly and effectively, even if the original significance of the word had evolved.

    If some tool is using the phrase ‘post-digital’ to indicate that ‘making it so’ in a digital context is anything less than hard work, I’d suggest that’s a problem with the tool and not the concept. Tragically, the only consistent element of any industry is the presence of tools throughout, and that, we cannot change, rail against, or apologise for.

  2. There is no Hoover for people to point to. All we have is a broad and muddy concept of post-digitalness which is appealing to different people for different reasons. Not because it removes dust from the carpet.

  3. So you’re arguing against a loosely defined concept being appealing to different people for different reasons, and deployed seemingly carelessly by people who may not know what they’re talking about?

    See also: Post-Modernism, ‘Hipsters’, Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect, Freud, terrorism, ‘flu, The Tipping Point…

    You’re in good company, but the misappropriation of this kind of label happens all the time, and is only annoying when it’s happening to you and making your job more difficult, which comes back to the point about tools (doesn’t it always?).

    Imagine being a mid-20th century European psychoanalyst…

  4. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”

    yep everything is complex. gloriously so, in all its mess.

    and of course I totally agree with your point – easy to say, impossible to implement – is what i call drawing pictures of time machines.

    Let’s build this!

    We can’t, we haven’t invented flux capacitors yet.


    i guess the challenge is how to explain how technology works to everyone in a way that’s useful for technologists to build things from.

    I used to think we all should learn to code. That maybe it was a kind of literacy.

    But maybe that’s incredibly reductive.

    And maybe digital cultural understanding is equally important – the behavioral grammar, the ebb and flow of attention.

    Maybe the fundamental principles of the internet are not TCP/IP protocols or how APIs work.

    Maybe there aren’t any fundamental principles beyond the principles of how people should operate in pleasant open societies, where all are created equal, and people are nice to each other, and credit each other.

    I suspect the idea of universal code literacy is unlikely, inside agencies or in the world.

    Maybe we just need to be able to program the VCR, not make one ourselves.

    Almost no one operating inside the industry makes ‘donuts’ right now.

    No one in advertising [agencies] makes television commercials [the films themselves] – they manage the processes of production. They germinate the concepts. They don’t make them, although all parts are required for the things to manifest.

    So they need to know…enough to get that running properly.

    Although I believe we do need code inside the system as an additional creative piller – without knowing what all the colors are, you can’t make a complete painting.

    The issues are always ones of translation I guess.

    But maybe that’s just word-monkeying.

    As always, much love.

  5. I think we’re generally fucked when it comes to ‘describing’ this stuff satisfactorily. Language is our way of making things thingy. But in the advent of that bastard, digital technology, everything is so complex and ever-changing that no terminology will ever be appropriate for any length of time.

    In a perverse kind of way, I enjoy watching us all scrabble around (no pun intended) trying to label things.

    Isn’t the point though, that the ‘effect’ should be simple, human and emotive, but that the means of getting there is far from it? When I listen to music that moves me, I don’t really want to think about the complexity involved in its composition. Equally, telling the composer ‘Hey, just keep it human, man’ isn’t very helpful either.

    The cold reality of commenting after Tait and Yakob has just hit me. Hopefully my casual cursing will shield me from your mighty intellects.

  6. Your music metaphor works very well. Thank you :-)

    The means of making some kinds of music-like noises has become very easy. You can create something passable in Garageband that is musical. But to actually make ‘real’ music that makes people weep with joy takes something more…

  7. Hi Ian, I think I get the points you are putting across.

    Including the comments i’m not entirely sure what is has to do with the statement/phrase/whatever “post digital”. It doesn’t read to me like you are talking about terminology, it seems your saying “I hate it when people who don’t know what they are on about run things”. But anyway, I digress.

    What struck me most was you saying the following:

    “Pro-post-digital folks are often the ones who run around knowing just enough to make everyone else’s lives a misery. Adding just enough technical veneer to their banter to give their equally post-digital clients a sense of uneasy complacency”


    “To deny there’s an art and a specific skillset required to produce and execute great digital products or advertising is a huge, epic, ostrich-like mistake. To say that any individual or company can turn their hand to it is rubbish”

    Or as Faris described it, literacy. On good web/digital/whatever projects those involved need a good degree of literacy (who the arbiter of literacy is, god knows :) ).

    What would be great is if you could, in light of these “pro-post-digital folks” and not “falling on your post-digital arse”, reference examples of project/accounts/campaigns/companies that have done well, vs those who have not .

    How were the teams structured, who was running them, what was it about their literacy that meant it worked, or why it didn’t work? What did the good projects have that the bad projects didn’t, or more interestingly what did the bad projects have that the good projects didn’t?

    Eg, what was it about the structure and literacy of the team involved in the Old Spice campaign that made it a success, as apposed to another project that in your eyes failed due to those involved having “just enough technical veneer” to create “a sense of uneasy complacency”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.