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Speed of Life is a wonderful thing. Progress, and the inexorable march of on line living, technology and the sprawling social networks that have come with it, has slung shot those who can afford it into a 21st century filled with an endless stream of content for the highly emerged and highly demanding Right Here Right Now digital citizen.

It’s not hard to see why Businesses and brands desperate to stitch themselves into the fabric of the new consumer consciousness have come to see leaping into this new digital wonderland as a magic answer, inspiring, resolving and delivering all of their dreams, issues and woes at once.

Digital ‘stuff’ can illuminate and expand brand presence, overcome budgetary and operational challenges and polyfill inadequacies all in one shot. Genius. What’s more the captive audience is awesome. There’s a heaving mass of relentlessly connected creatures out there superglued to one device or another, as brilliant as the 3D graphics on our android touch screen and as unlimited as our mobile package, bound in an electric cat’s cradle of joined-up-ness.

And in a world where People talk to people; machines talk to buildings; homes talk to owners; bus-stops chat to commuters, cams speak to police stations, clouds speak to cables and ideas speak to reality through 3D printing technology, the opportunities for businesses and brands to inveigle themselves are seemingly endless.

Our kaleidoscopic ability to multi-task our multi-life and its many personas, searching a holiday, gaming, booking a table, sending an email, grabbing three music downloads (illegally of course) while txt avoiding a tricky mother and recently downgraded BF between wi-fi hotpots presents a wonderland for every experience, service, product and platform designer, innovator and engineer out there.

For a business looking to:

  • build an authentic meaningful and differentiated social brand
  • Improve Reputation and NPS scores
  • stimulate appropriate and meaningful innovation that creates and captures real value
  • move from a bought media to earned media model
  • embrace the game changer mechanisms and communities of the not for profit social entrepreneurial brands

this new rich dynamic and fluid world with its social networks, causal platforms apps, communities of interest and endless playgrounds of content offers a host of opportunities and an infinite number of occasions at which a business can create added value, improve customer centricity and reach a new audience from a myriad number of angles and directions.

The only issue that faces them seems to be that of deciding which conversations to join, who to love up and where to aim the super rainbow gorgeous gun of digital first.
Even the Newtonian truth of our shiny new gig-enabled universe seems to offer salvation and an opportunity to do a Cloud worth of more Digital ‘stuff’.

The toxic underworld that doesn’t feature in the Unlimited Me brochures – the quite unpalatable opposites to our electric speed of life can be turned into a positive in our newly connected world.
A number of businesses and brands have already seized on aspects of the digital distemper:

  • The loss of real human connection and community
  • The dislocation of the poor and the elderly
  • The rise of cruel digital anonymity – e.g. cyber bullying and sexting
  • The collapsing quality of content at ever increasing speed and volume.
  • The as yet unanswered question heavy mobile use’s potential to micro-wave our brains

turning them into the gift of a higher purpose beyond profit for the brand or business, taking them up as a new causes to fight, using the networks and platforms to play out off set strategies for social cohesion, volunteering schemes and outreach projects, delivering apps that donate and micro-fund community action and real impact, and galvanizing employees on and off line to ‘give back’

 But there is a danger in this Bad Into Good model for me. Because I believe it has the potential to disguise or wholly obscure the exacerbation of a far more insidious malaise – the one thing I believe presents the only truly equal and opposite force to that positive powering our hi-speed digital lives – the condition of digital obesity.
We are, in digital terms, becoming morbidly obese – and businesses and brands asserting their digital persona in the world will only make the condition worse.
To grasp some measure of the potential ‘tonnage’ of digital stuff coming our way in the not too distant future, one only has to look at the seismic budgetary shifts in both marcomms investment from traditional to new media channels and in operational emphasis to online customer retail and service models.
And as with their friends in the fast food retail sector, businesses and brands cannot simply lay the responsibility for healthy levels of consumption at the door of those consuming it.
In our supersize-me digital world they have engineered a plethora of ever greater choice – a curse that we seem incapable of undoing or casting off for fear of not being or being seen to be ‘connected and ON’.
We’re in an endless lock-in at the All You Can Eat big byte buffet and we’ve eaten the key.
We are becoming increasingly immobilised by our mobile selves, screeching to a halt mid stride, sentence, hump or sleep to answer the seductive vibration and ping of another pointless digital missive.

We are stuffing our faces with gigabytes of links, looks and lazy emotion to the point of nausea.

We are increasingly crippled by the devices sitting in front of us, paralyzed by the mere thought, let alone the actual loss, of power or connection. We sit slumped in bars watching the bars on our mobiles flicker in and out of range. We find ourselves frozen in silhouettes, stupid people holding smart devices to the sky, some half open window or the door in some desperate search for connectedness and meaning.

More and more of us are quietly and invisibly suffocating under the sheer weight of our fabulous unlimited-ness – rolled in fold upon fold of multiple personas, accounts, passwords, profiles and the multitude of screen devices that serve them. For some, digital citizenship is crushing, both physically and spiritually – a crisis of wellbeing.

We are getting less emotional bang for our digital buck – becoming spiritually diminished by the ever increasing and relentless consumption of the over illuminated text of content, connection and correspondence – the Windows to our soul now come with a Microsoft logo seared into the lids.

There is even a nihilistic dimension appearing; with grown adults oppressed by the SKY Plus listings – the endless chore of deleting all the things they will never have time to watch delivering a harsh reminder of their own mortality. There is no 27 Hour Day App you can tap to make it alright

People in business are doing less with a 24/7crackberry habit than they did by walking down the office floor and only answering calls in office hours. We now manage tsunamis of emails playing pass the parcel and administrating the professional persona we want the world to see, not who we are or what we’re really worth.

Even at our current level, If bytes were calories some of us would quickly become the lead feature in a tatty real life story magazine with larger than life pictures of our larger than life body now unable to leave the chat-room other than by crane and low loader HGV once some walls have been removed.
We are indiscriminately consuming supersize portions of content and correspondence at greater speed and greater volume than ever before and to such a degree as to create the very opposite of the nirvana our interconnected togetherness promises.

Both we in our digital neediness, and the brands and providers that serve it are driving a culture of digital consumption that is both overwhelming and unsustainable – and ultimately destructive.

We are becoming immune to massive deliveries of every type of content, our hunger becoming harder to satiate, the digital version of a stomach stapling lying just around the corner for some of us.

And this immunity will only in turns frustrate and further inspire the brands and businesses seeking our favour to double their efforts and outputs.

We need divine editing and de-selection tools, not another shed load of low quality tat shoved down our pipe – a role that businesses and brands could well embrace to amazing effect on both their constituencies and their reputations.

It is the responsibility of any business that is considering or already peddling and utilising the digital fix to authentically embrace to a greater degree the role of divine editor physician and life coach on the behalf of societies they thrive within.

So perhaps, the next time the strategists and consultants both inside and outside your business are assessing the value of wrestling with the muscular ‘cut’ colossus of our godlike digital selves, standing astride the world wrapped in electric pixel pants packed with gigabyte greatness, they should spare a thought for its troubled twin, stuffed into ill fitting velour sports leisure wear, sweating and wheezing, roll after roll of uncontrolled content pouring over the top of its go-faster waistband as it shuffles at a snail’s pace to the supersize fridge of byte-size snacking on its collapsing peta flip-flops.

In pursuit of exploring the edges and impacts of digital obesity I would invite the sharper and more inquisitive brand and business minds out there and the big brains who serve them to get out the weights, measures slide rules and calipers and get to work on a truly transparent assessment of the situation.

Social and digital strategists both on the operational and the brand sides of business must honestly consider the more toxic downsides of our digital brilliance. They should pass a colder eye over the subtler psychiatric impacts of the nihilistic nature of our consumption when plotting a new digital dimension, otherwise they are not representing the potential for impact both good and bad that the digital virtual world has to offer.

Only then could we all leap into this amazing new world with a clear understanding of what we are getting ourselves into and what a sustainable and healthy digital citizen really might look like.

FOOTNOTE

An abridged version of the above featured in the Guardian Sustainable Business last April:

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/digital-obesity-high-tech-health

and featured as a theme in the UK Dream Wellbeing workshop I facilitated. It has subsequently been picked up the University of Surrey as a potential 4 year research piece – Digital Divinity and the search for an enlightened digital life – in search of a top up corporate sponsor.

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