Despite our advancing tech fluency, capsule it still feels as though anything you can ‘put online’ is given the digital label by someone. It’s not only lazy and unhelpful, I believe it stunts progress.
Rather than perish in a semantic shit-storm, or kid myself that people will stop saying ‘digital’ any time soon, I’m going to work with the word. If we’re going to mis-use it, I’d like to at least suggest a more helpful way to mis-use it!
Fortunately, my first disgruntled tweet resulted in a useful reference: Katy Lindemann sent me “Fuck Yeah Internet Fridge” and although it was lighthearted banter, I looked at that fridge and it did seem… kinda ‘digital’! I realised that it was because the technology involved was the object’s ‘brain’, not its distribution channel. So here’s my afore-caveated definition:
Things are digital when the Internet is in them, not when they’re in the internet.
That’s a bit more helpful. Imperfect, but helpful. Because it reminds us that ‘digital’ is more empowering as a mindset than as a medium.
Impressionists weren’t just artists that wanted to make lower fidelity brush marks. They were people that shared a mindset and whose mindset manifested in those marks. Similarly, there are people with a ‘digital mindset’ — the web, and everything it represents – drives their thinking. The Internet is ‘in their work’, rather than the other way around. And it’s the soul of that work that makes it ‘digital’, not just its final form.
What was all that about stunting progress?
If a young ‘creative’ person develops in an environment where ‘digital’ means sticking content online, then she’s being prevented from developing a truly ‘digital mentality’, and the world is denied the work she might have created. It’s our duty to help people like her to think thoughts that we are unable to.
That doesn’t mean she should stop thinking about content, messages, videos or linear ideas. Dumb Ways To Die shows that they’re sometimes the best answer of all. But she should at least know the difference between modes of thinking. Both digital and advertising mindsets are powerful and valuable, and if she’s smart enough, she’ll even learn to combine them.
I don’t want anyone to misunderstand this post and think I’m saying a digital mentality is superior. Or that I’m belittling Dumb Ways To Die. I love it. And in some ways its simplicity and smart seeding are evidence of understanding the web very well. I’m simply questioning the effect of applying blunt labels to things, masking their real value – and clouding important differences, the comprehension of which could lead to even more exciting work.