A journey through the oldness of the new
Personalization? It’s been around since before Noah learned the length of a cubit. It just wasn’t automated, digitized, and distributed in multiple media. When the guy who ran the General Store in Colonial Williamsburg noticed that Mrs. Harrison preferred patterned fabrics, he’d send her a note when patterned textiles arrived in the shop. The Renaissance cabinet maker didn’t build things on spec. He built them to order, sized to fit a particular purpose or space.
Content marketing? Take some collateral (brochures, how-to guides, spec sheets, videos, sales aids, and anything else used to market and sell in place of face-to-face discussions) and make it available in print (for the past 150 years) or online (for the past 30, give or take), and tailor it for specific individuals involved in the buying process. Old process. New name.
SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW WE’RE STUPID
Artificial intelligence? It’s been standard in government for years, though it’s reached new heights in 2021 in places like the Florida governor’s mansion and the Texas legislature.
Yet A.I. that’s related to computer analysis isn’t all that new either. In the early ’90s, A.I. was already proving itself at companies like American Express, Dun & Bradstreet, and Swiss Bank whose A.I. systems were reducing errors, increasing productivity, and providing solutions in seconds, rather than hours, days, or weeks. The difference today is that the programming technologies have caught up with the business intent and can capture knowledge and detect patterns that used to take programmers ages to accomplish.
WAS STILL IS
Podcasts? They used to call them radio. Of course, you had to tune in at a scheduled time on a specific station, and now you can listen to the audio whenever and wherever you want (if you have the right equipment: computer, tablet, smartphone). The problem is that, while radio shows needed discipline to fit the information into a limited time, podcasts (the business kind) tend to be lazy journalism. Too much chit chat, not enough focused interviewing skill that keeps the participants focused on the subject, and discussions that can ramble on for… ever.
Podcasts that offer serialized stories, whether fictional or true, are radio, too. Just digitally available on demand.
Email? Oh, deJoy of not having to rely on the Postal Service. It’s eminently adaptable — automatically and manually — saves a fortune on production and printing and postage, and can arrive anywhere outside autocracies in seconds. But, c’mon, it’s mail. It’s Pheidippides in bits and bytes (and without the threat of death for showing up with bad news).
NEARLY AS OLD AS CIVILIZATION
Video? It’s theater, speeches, product demos, pictures from a trip to Carpathia all transformed onto digitized visual media. Yes, there are things that you can do with computers and special effects that enhance things to the point of disbelief (pick any Marvel super hero movie) or real danger (vaccines will lead to a zombie apocalypse), but it hasn’t been new since Thomas Edison and the Lumières.
Media have evolved and, with their evolution, they have influenced our perceptions. As Marshall McLuhan phrased it, “the medium is the massage” that manipulates us on sensory levels. That puts the modern equivalencies of all the earlier approaches in a category of “new is different”; not necessarily “new is better.”
YOU ARE NOT ME AND THAT’S A GOOD THING
People still learn differently. Some prefer to read about things, others to hear about them, some want to see words and pictures or just pictures or maybe walkthrough demonstrations. That’s why we need so many distinct approaches. We just shouldn’t view them as brand spankin’ new. Consider them upgrades or enhancements or “new and improved” — things that, unlike Athena, did not spring fully-formed from the head of Zeus.
These babies have been around since the dawn of civilization. They’re just learning new abilities to adapt to the times.