Monday, January 4, 2010

Ten concepts that will be redefined in the Twenteens

Whether or not it is mathematically accurate, most of us consider 2010 to be the beginning of a new decade. And with such a break, naturally, come speculations as to what the next ten years are going to be all about.

I'm no futurist, but as a writer I'm interested in how words change their meanings over time. And more importantly, how the big ideas behind them catch up with social evolution.

Here are 10 terms that I think will mean something very different during this decade:


Even people of my generation are amazed at younger people's lack of what we would call "shame". Just yesterday, I was reading about how a brother, whose sister narced him out for keeping beer in his room, got his revenge by posting her "hookup list" on Facebook and tagging all the guys' names.

Sibling rivalry may be as old as the hills, but when you see this list and the reactions to it, you can see that we're dealing with a generation that doesn't blush. They get mad, sure. They get embarrassed. But I don't get the impression that this girl really felt shame at having written this list in the first place.

Is that wrong? Not necessarily. In fact, when these kids are running the world, I can't imagine what kind of sex scandal could unseat a political leader, since everyone will have done everything imaginable and shared it by then.


Speaking of which, I'm getting old. Or at least, I should be. But one great thing about trailing the Baby Boomers is that they keep raising the bar. First 30 was the new 20. Then 40 was the new 30. 50 the new 40. 60 the new 50. Etc.

It's gotten to the point where I'm not really that concerned about turning 40 this year. As older friends and relatives have shown me, I never really need to grow old.


I'd like to thank you, my dedicated reader, for being here. But where is "here"? I'm writing this in my office, and you could literally be anywhere in the world. This is nothing new, since telecommunication has always made some of this possible, but the ease and richness of it make us so much more present in each other's lives than ever before.

Online meetings, online games, online parties... people are getting together in places that don't actually exist. So at what point will we need a new word for "here" that means "no, like actually in the flesh (and actually paying attention rather than Blackberrying)".


I think the concept of "Now" has also changed, and will continue to do so, in certain contexts. When I write an e-mail to an friend, and I ask "what are you doing now?" I might mean this year, or even since 1989. But when I see them on Facebook or Twitter, I see that they're trying to clean cat barf out of their carpet.

The immediacy in personal communication is risible, but in business it's downright infuriating. But I've already covered that one in another post.


Originally, a brand was an attempt to give human attributes to a company or product. Now it's gone full circle, and corporate branding techniques are being applied to people.

Way back in 2007, Fast Company said "Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You."

So if a brand is a person, and a person is a brand, then... ?

Oh, forget it. My head hurts.


Are we having a conversation right now? Not really. As far as I know I'm just talking at you (or nobody, for that matter). But we may get into one in the comments thread below.

What's interesting about online ideas exchange isn't just that we can have a little Twitter flamewar in almost real time — it's also that a conversation can play out over hours, days, or even weeks on a thread. And I can have several at a time without being rude.

I've actually caught myself recently stating that I had "had a conversation" with someone at over something important, when in fact we had just messaged each other a few times. Maybe that seems normal to you, but I'm still getting used to it.


I was at a social media seminar last year where one participant raised concern about the idea of generating so much content for free: "How do I retain ownership of it, if it's out there for everyone to use as they see fit?"

The idea of ownership is changing — from collaborative authorship on Wikis, to hilarious copyright violations on YouTube.

This obviously bothers some owners of more valuable intellectual capital like U2's Bono, who actually went on record saying that ISPs should use Chinese-style policing of the Internet to stop illegal music sharing.

To some people, this might seem to make sense. But it goes against the ideals of Internet culture, and also seems petty coming from a millionaire rock star.

I'm not saying artists shouldn't have the right to protect, and profit from, their own work. I just don't know how they'll manage in a remixing, sharing online world.


This is more one I'd like to see change, rather than one that necessarily will. But the idea is that as people form more and varied connections with other people, they will stop being such all-or-nothing team players.

What I mean by that is that people will stop labelling themselves "liberal" or "conservative" or whatever, but will instead form loyal connections to the individual people and ideas that suit them best, while at the same time always be ready to change alliances if a person or thing lets them down. Think "cat loyalty" rather than "dog loyalty". I actually think that would make for a smarter, better world.


This is another of those old-school words that often gets misapplied in marketing and life. But I think you will see a new sort of responsibility continue to emerge in the next few years, where people can no longer feign ignorance about the impacts of their behaviours, and companies are answerable for their claims, practices, and supply chains.

At least I hope so.

Ad Agency

We've never really had ad agencies here in Ottawa. Because of the size of the market and the nature of the client base, most of us have evolved from design shops to a more integrated and strategic offering.

There have been times when I regretted not moving to a bigger market with "real" ad agencies, but not anymore. While I'm not ready to proclaim the post-advertising era quite yet, the long death of traditional mainstream media is brutalizing the old media commission model. At the same time, old ways of communicating are eroding as consumers just get their best tips from their extended network.

One of the great things about being at Acart is that we're constantly reinventing ourselves. Because we're always changing, we don't have to fear change.

So what will the Ad Agency of 2020 look like? Tune in for my next installment.


  1. Great post, Tom!

    Shame: I disagree -- young people always seem shameless to older people. Some of the teen girls who participated in group sex outside in the mud at Woodstock grew up to be psycho moms petitioning for school uniforms so that their daughters couldn't dress like Madonna. Some of their moms, in turn, were the girls who had anonymous sex in dance hall washroom stalls with GIs passing through town on their way to ship out to Europe or the Pacific.

    Here/Now/Conversation: I'm wary about exaggerating the qualitative difference between what we do now with web technology and what we did in the past with paper correspondence. Granted, there's a quantitative difference -- writing a comment on a blog or sending a tweet is cheaper and faster than writing a letter or scrawling a note for a messenger to deliver, and there are orders of magnitude more comment forums than there ever were newsletters and newspaper editorial pages -- but I don't think that the issues around remote, asynchronous discourse are new.

    Ownership: I agree -- you can't use laws to keep an artificial scarcity going forever (just as the former USSR). The current idea of copyright and patent for electronic media, whether morally right or wrong, will fail, but not without a last gasp of draconian enforcement attempts from the industries concerned. The next decade will be defined largely by that last gasp, and it could be nasty for many of us.

    Loyalty: I agree, and I think that to a large extent it's already happened. The political partisans (Conservative/Liberal/NDP/Green/Democrat/Republican/etc.) can make a lot of noise -- the Internet acts as a virtual megaphone -- but I think their shrillness is a reaction to their shrinking numbers: if people aren't listening, they figure they just have to yell louder. I don't miss the bad old days, when a small number of newspaper, TV, and radio owners could manipulate public opinion by controlling all the information people in a town would see, hear, and read.

    Responsibility: I'm nervous. I think it's only smart for companies to be and be seen as good citizens, but in the end, it's the government's job to make and enforce regulations and the companies' job to make money for their shareholders (many of which are pension funds and RSPs) within those regulations. If companies are getting away with stuff, then it's our governments we need to talk to. Trying to make players into referees is never a good idea.

    Ad Agency: I think you're on the right track, looking for opportunities instead of fighting change. Maybe you should have a talk with the recording industry ...

  2. Thanks, David! And I realize how crotchety I sound on "shame". But I'd also like to know what the new standards are.

  3. I suspect they'll revert to about 80% of their parents' standards, but introduce a few new twists. Our generation/social class decided to accept unmarried cohabitation and same-sex relationships; our parents' generation decided to accept premarital sex, mixed-race relationships and women wearing pants (seriously - it was an issue once); their parents' decided to accept mixed-religion relationships and mothers working outside the home; etc.