When I was younger computers were for geeks. It was as simple as that. Then the internet came along and made them cool.
Almost overnight the web gave what was once an unfeasibly complicated and inaccessible technology a human face for the first time. This changed the world.
Like so many of those around me at the time, my early career in digital was mind-blowingly exciting. At Oyster Partners, one of the UK’s very first marketing and technology agencies, I was involved in creating pioneering websites for the likes of MTV Europe and 10 Downing Street.
There weren’t many digital agencies around at the time, so we really were one of only a handful of companies at the forefront of a brave new movement. We were doing things no one had done before. We were making it up as we went along.
These were exciting, but also challenging times. Like most agencies we had access to some of the most senior people in the organisations we worked with, but the web was still seen as the domain of the IT department. More often than not we’d find ourselves talking to the guy with a precisely arranged line up of pens in his top pocket rather than the guy in the sharp suit.
Clients would come to us with budgets of well over a million quid but no real idea of what they wanted to do with it
Of course things went crazy during the dotcom boom – it was like the Wild West, only with Converse and microscooters.
Clients would come to us with budgets of well over a million quid but no real idea of what they wanted to do with it. One now-household-name dotcom brand offered us equity in their business in exchange for building their website. We said no because we were too busy with other projects but if things had been different let’s just say I’d probably be dictating this article to my butler from my gold-plated private jet.
Opportunists and career-makers
The point is that it was – and continues to be – absolutely crucial to take risks in order to drive a digital business forward.
As we all know, the dotcom era was characterised by opportunists, but those of us who became involved in the next phase of the internet’s evolution were the ones who wanted long-term careers in digital – and who continue to define the landscape today.
The single most important thing I’ve learned since I began my career in digital is that you can never stand still. There are always new things to learn. You’ve got to stay restless otherwise you’ll get left behind.
Aside from the flying cars, robot law enforcers and entire-three-course-meal-in-a-pill innovations which are inevitably just around the corner, we are already seeing the internet enter an entirely new phase of its evolution.
The now ubiquitous nature of the web means that connectivity between the real and the virtual worlds has the potential to transform our daily lives. While marketers need to embrace the new and not be afraid to experiment, they also need to think long-term rather than focusing on short-sighted commercial objectives.
The best thing the internet can do over the next 25 years is disappear
Technology and the internet can break down barriers between companies and their customers, and between customers and their peers, but it’s the responsibility of brands and agencies to ensure that we use digital to enrich people’s lives, not just to make money.
The exciting challenge for the next five to 10 years is to use technology to truly harness the power of data. This will allow us to develop a much deeper understanding of human behaviour and ultimately to create products, services and stories that add greater value to people’s lives.
Of course, while the internet is an everyday reality for us in the UK, other countries are yet to fully experience the opportunities it affords. The work of organisations like internet.org should help to bring greater connectivity to the developing world in a move that will truly transform lives.
Beyond this, it’s my hope that in 10 years the internet and technology in general will become invisible; completely integrated into our everyday lives in a way that is much less intrusive. In the future we will experience a world that is wonderfully free from screens, wires and widgets.
Ultimately this will allow us to return to more fundamentally human ways of communicating. Put simply, the best thing the internet can do over the next 25 years is disappear.