From bits and bobs to blockchain.
Everyone in tech is talking about blockchain.
But creatives are struggling to be inspired by a decentralised triple ledger accounting system.
Don’t worry, we’ve been here before. Believe it or not, in 1982 computers were as boring as batshit.
One of the silver linings of being the first girl in the creative department was you got to work on the really tough briefs the boys couldn’t win awards with.
In the early 80’s, they were basic (and I’m not using that term ironically), you had to practically programme them yourself, which meant their target market was the decidedly unsexy demographic of the three boys who studied computer science at your school.
When we received our Dragon 32 we had no idea why anyone would want a computer or what on earth they’d use it for, so we dutifully read the ‘War and Peace’ of a manual and set about our first simple task – adding 8 and 8.
It took us 8 hours.
We played for the next 8 days straight.
Our boss was furious, he expected us to have mastered spreadsheets –not swinging on virtual vines, we persuaded him that computers were never going to be fun, but the software being developed at wildfire speed was.
Soon floppy discs were everywhere.
Except in our pitch deck for a new software company.
Our Sloane Ranger secretary filled 84 pages with floppy dicks.
She spent hours re-feeding and realigning the pages to Tippex out the offending members.
The first meeting with the clients was strained, I don’t think the techies had ever spoken to a young, attractive woman before and when I asked them what their software was, they said it had 8 bits and 10 bobs. I asked again and they said 32 meg of ram. I got a little exasperated, “OK, guys, I’m a secretary, why should I use Microsoft Word instead of my much loved orange golf ball?”
They giggled and said, “Because you could have got rid of all your floppy dicks with one key stroke.”
I was sold, but it took a lot longer to get the typists on board. They had to give up their funky orange spaceships for boring grey boxes, type with a tippety tap instead of clattering at speed, and worst of all, lose the indescribable satisfaction of a vigorous carriage return.
Not to mention their sumptuous vellums were replaced with perforated striped toilet paper and lowercase letters were almost impossible to read.
But no-one wants a floppy dick.
And that’s how you sell tech, in all its messy humanness.
Since day one and to this very day, us creatives have to work with clients whose whole lives are based on logic.
But logic doesn’t sell.
I quit my job over how to use a fax machine.
If digital natives think they are the first generation to communicate in 140 characters or less, they have never encountered a telex machine.
I emigrated to Sydney in the late 80’s and the cheapest way of getting message back to London immediately was by visiting the telex room (yes, a machine was so big it had its own room - and operator) and you were charged by the letter.
So when the fax machine came along it was a godsend. Our minds boggled with the possibilities. We created a campaign that would have spurred imaginations to all the amazing things you could do when you can transmit black and white graphics anywhere in the world in seconds.
But our logical boss was convinced the only advantage of faxes was what you would save in postage.
We couldn’t persuade him that tech isn’t here to replace things, it’s here to radically change how people relate to each other.
But maybe it was too soon.
Like when I was tasked to lead JWT’s South Pacific region to produce a vision of what the coming digital age would mean to Kodak.
They couldn’t believe photographs could be on anything but paper. I remember the client looking at me exasperated, cup in hand, saying, “OK, this is a cup of coffee, can you explain digital to me like it’s a cup of coffee?”
“OK,” I said, “It still looks the same, smells the same, tastes the same - but there’s no cup.”
He gave up.
(I always wondered if the penny dropped for him when the iPhone came out eleven years later.)
You see, tech is never about the abilities of tech, it’s all about the possibilities. You have to trust that the techies can build anything and start designing dreams.
And dreams start with human desires.
I’m not going to bore you with anecdotes from the clash of worlds brought about by the arrival of the internet and social media, it’s all pretty much the same story.
But what’s happening now takes me back to that little software office in 1982, desperately trying to understand the acronyms of the ultimate logic junkies.
Blockchain is the new frontier for those who can understand it, but it’s a bit clunky and the cypherpunks make out it’s much harder (and scarier) than it actually is.
Ultimately, it’s very simple.
The blockchain can be applied to any multi-step transaction where traceability and visibility is required.
Understanding how it works is even simpler.
You just have to comprehend the concept that money isn’t real.
That’s not a stretch, today it’s simply a balance on a screen.
Who cares what currency buys your music, film, takeaway, or ride home from the pub?
Nobody takes cash anyway.
There has never been a time where any company can gain real brand currency (and I am using that term ironically).
It’s time for the creatives to work with the techies and start learning the bits and bobs of blockchain then delve into our beautiful chaos to dream up how people will use it.
Janee works with people who are here to change the world.