Insight is an area of change, but perhaps one that is still emerging. Traditionally, being insightful carries with it something wispy and ethereal, of seeing beyond the available real-world information. Having insight used to suggest the capacity to produce meaning despite the physical evidence, or at least in isolation from it.

For us, the opposite is true: insight necessarily arises from evidence; it is the result of observable data and personal experience. Understanding is an emergent property of data collection and its analysis. In trying to explain this shift, we might speculate that for the purposes of common parlance, insight is moving from a fortunate random occurrence for somebody who happens to possess the trait of insightfulness, to the guaranteed and logical outcome of a systematic interrogation of data. In this way, the growth of data and the arrival of big data create insight as a service. As simple observation becomes endlessly more complex, we move towards a commodification of understanding.

Meaning through omission: the end of digital

Another change brought about by the growth of the digital has been an elimination of qualifiers that used to be necessary to convey meaning. These changes illustrate a shift in what is “normal” in the digital age. Within print media, we once spoke of a full-page colour. With the availability of cheaper, better colour printing, today it would be assumed by most publishers that a full page is going to be produced in colour, and it would be a mono activity that would need to be specified.

In the same way, you don’t hear talk of smartphones today because they have become the norm. In fact, to buy a mobile phone with no internet connection, you will have to specify that you’re looking for a feature phone or, amusingly, a dumbphone.

We might see this situation eventually arise within the notion of digital itself. When digital media or digital trading are firmly ensconced in every aspect of our industry, the space between online and offline diminishes: once you consume 90% of your media through a digital interface, we won’t need to specify the fact. The same is true at home: when your fridge is “smart” and Alexa turns your lights on, the distinction between the online and offline space is eroded. The effort needed to distinguish linguistically between the two becomes redundant.

Within media, this will extend beyond the use of the word digital to the whole concept itself: the fact that we’re trading radio programmatically will eventually become so commonplace that we’ll stop being quite so pleased about it. Here you might even see the vestiges of more old-fashioned language cling on. All the noise about digital this and programmatic that will abate, and it will once more just be called radio. Even though radio waves no longer have much to do with it, the name will persist in a monument to a forgotten technology. If that sounds unlikely, consider the remarkable longevity of “video” or why the save icon is a picture of a floppy disk.

 “All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses”

Endlessly fascinating as they are (IKR?) these ruminations are not purely academic: there are long-term practical implications for some of this linguistic navel-gazing. In our trade, there is currently a great deal of meaning which is in flux, and understanding previous shifts and swings might help us to scrutinise the situation today more fruitfully. The capacity for innovation to impact on the way we interact with the world and each other ensures that changes in the way we speak and write are inevitable.

There’s an element of faddism in many cases too: not all changes are permanent. For example, within social media, the concept of a wall is already beginning to fade. Elsewhere, the abundance of multi-media content in every possible context is making the presence of video less remarkable and so beginning to chip away at the value of vlog, in favour of the slightly older, slightly less contrived, easier-on-the-tongue, blog.

It’s a given that keeping up with the technological zeitgeist and the associated nomenclature prevents our technical expertise from falling behind the curve and keeps our clients up to speed with the most relevant and efficient routes to market.

But looking back to understand the socio-historical moment of these changes will also inform the way that new innovations are leveraged within the media campaign.

Keeping a broader contextual view will help marketers to have a better understanding of which horse to back: should my video content be portrait or landscape? Which runner is the next Facebook? Which is the next Google Glass? How far will swipe left penetrate the lexicon? What will gesture recognition mean for the language of doing? Understanding the changing ways, we speak about these tools should unearth a few more clues. This post was the last in our Language of Media series, you can check out the other posts: Media’s Influence on our Language and Plurals – The Language of Media.

Ed Hill, Managing Partner