Do we really live in a post-digital world? Y&R Chairman and CEO David Sable makes the case that, far from being post-digital, we are only at the beginning of being digital, and that fresh ideas can be found everywhere.

Written by
David Sable
May 2012

The phrase “post-digital” is being bandied about an awful lot these days. The Guardian writes, “Welcome to the post-digital world, an exhilarating return to civility...” Ad Age talks about how the “Post-Digital Era Brings Traits of Web to Real World.” Deloitte asks: “The Post-Digital Age: Is Your Enterprise Ready?” And Jefferies declares: “...we have certainly entered the post-digital era.”

Marketers. Financial analysts. Pundits. They’re all immersed in post-digital rhetoric. As if, because digital is everything, everything is already digital. The truth is we are only at the very beginning of what’s digital. We wake up every morning to new technology and stunning new applications. Fresh ideas abound.

A bigger truth is that while digital is everything, everything is not digital. And, in fact, it never has been, nor will be — despite dire predictions that our love of things digital would inevitably trap us in socially-isolated cybercaves, bereft of real human interaction. Needless to say, community — the primal, human urge to commune, share, and connect — is alive and well. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest, LinkedIn, all have the power to connect to the real world, and they all do connect.

Facebook, for example, hosts 140 billion photos, a library 10,000 times the size of the Library of Congress. That’s an astonishing number. But what’s truly interesting is how we are beginning to take everything we’ve learned from the digital world and bridge it back to the physical world. Because lo and behold, that’s where people live.

I call this phenomenon “Digital Exponential” – because we are finding the exponential value of digital in the real world. Digital exponential is the Arab Spring —aided and abetted by social media but with very real-world consequences. Digital exponential is found in Apple Stores, which are, to my mind, nothing more than real-world, physical manifestations of the best, most interactive online user experience. Digital exponential can also be brick-and-mortar stores for some of the most vibrant digital brands. Witness the recent rumors that Amazon may open a physical store in Ireland, and that Google was helping pave the way. eBay stores are cropping up everywhere, helping sellers deal with the physical realities of shopping online.

We used to talk about living online and offline. But more and more, we are creating seamless paths between the two, creating a complete lifestyle, enriched and enabled by technology rather than engulfed by it. This is something qualitatively different from having both a distinct online and a distinct offline presence. The Super Bowl, for example, has long been a marketer’s mecca — one of the last good, mass audiences for broadcast advertising. Just look at how the Super Bowl has become more digital and more social at the same time. There’s more content online, more user participation, and at the same time, advertisers’ actively seeking to create opportunities for real-world consumer interaction as a critical and integral part of the “experience.”

Simply giving content away ahead of time – getting people to like your brand on Facebook, slapping on a hashtag – may have the patina of engagement, but not the results. Some marketers have forgotten that the Super Bowl is a great excuse for people to get together, to build lavish, food-filled parties around the event, and to enjoy the surprise of some great new ads together. They discounted that watching the advertising was as much a communal as a commercial event. And so they lost the opportunity to leverage the full value of digital. One thing is for certain, though, in the Digital Exponential world: Any technology must be inextricably linked with human purpose -- with a great story that uplifts the entire user experience – or it will be doomed to fast obsolescence. The digital graveyard is littered with thousands of such apps and other digital failures.

Done right, Digital Exponential is far more compelling than “post-digital.” Who wants to live in a world where, as one pundit put it, “digital is becoming like air: the only time you’ll notice it, is when it’s not there?” Not me. I look at some of the really interesting things happening today, many of which are happening on mobile, and I see how they bridge the digital and the real world. And that’s what I want to see more of when I look forward to future technologies.

I look at some of the really interesting things happening today, many of which are happening on mobile, and I see how they bridge the digital and the real world. And that’s what I want to see more of when I look forward to future technologies.

Think Google wallet, an example I love that’s already here. All on your phone, you can find a movie and the closest theater, cash in rewards points, and buy your tickets. All of which carries you to the physical event of sitting in a movie theater with friends, eating popcorn and sharing the experience. That’s something actually amazing, and it’s the Digital Exponential in a nutshell.

As a marketer, what do you think of the phrase "post digital?" In what ways are consumers living lives where the online and offline world is a seamless path?