Digital Sucks: The NEXT17 Theme

Let's face it. Digital sucks. And its our fault. At NEXT17 we'll face that head on - and decide what to do about it.

Digital sucks.

That might seem like a strange thing for a blog post on a website for a digital conference to say, but it does.

And it’s our fault.

Digital Paradise Lost

We’ve come a long way from the idealism of the Cluetrain Manifesto nearly two decades ago, when the early netizens (as we rather quaintly called ourselves) predicted that the communication facilitated by the internet would usher in a new dawn of understanding across the globe. Even a decade ago – when NEXT kicked off, the digital future seemed more idealistic than it does now.

Nearly 20 years later, we’re addicted to the ludic loop of apps of our phones, trapped in a cage of our own dividing, and trapped there not by bars but by the chirp of notifications, and the financial drain of in-app purchases for the latest addictive game. We’re able to get taxis in seconds – but at the cost of our personal data being mined by umpteen services, and sold off to the highest bidder. The enhanced communication the internet brings us hasn’t heralded an era of greater understanding, but an age of fake news, highly partisan websites, data-driven political manipulation – and possibly even hacking of elections by other countries.

How did we get here?

Centralising the freeform web

The early web was a loose connection of vaguely joined pieces. It was an age of open protocols and open standards. Things like e-mail, FTP and the world wide web were based on software anyone (with a decent amount of technical knowledge) could install and run. The early social web was smeared between multiple blogs, forums and networks. It was the wild west. It was anarchic. But it was fun.

But then, in the words of the sage, we paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.

While that freeform mesh of the web still exists, at the heart of it there now lurk giant corporate entities that dominate such of it: Facebook, Amazon, Google, WeChat. Each of them offers us great services and great convenience – but at the cost of our data. And they know much more about us than many of us are comfortable with. We’re building these digital egos (as we explored last year) through our travels through those digital worlds, but we don’t own them. They’re owned by the corporations that have built them and they’re traded and sold. And now those digital selves are being used to exploit us politically.

So, Digital Sucks.

So, should we all disconnect and head back to the woods? Well, that might be harder than you think… But its clear that many digital pioneers have discovered the value of disconnecting or slowing down.

Here’s the thing: digital sucks. But it’s not digital’s fault. Digital is just a tool. And so, digital is what we – the people – make of it. And that means that we can – if we want – make a course correction. With every choice we make online, with every service we choose to use – and, more fundamentally, with the products we choose to build and the relationship we choose to have with our customers, we can shape the future of digital.

The future is not set. Digital disruption is not done. The digital genie is not going back in the lap. It’s still day one.

Digital sucks. We can make it better.

Making digital better

And so, in September, in Hamburg, in a glorious, human-scale theatre from the analogue world, we’ll be exploring why digital sucks.

And more importantly, how to make it better.

Join us.