How does a group of top digital marketing experts and creative professionals respond when a newcomer joins their midst wielding a pre-smart phone (a ‘thick’ phone) and claiming to need nothing more to function? The answer: with quiet politeness and a muted shade of embarrassment. How does the same group respond when that rookie finally buys their very first smartphone – half a decade after smart became the norm? At Organic, with warmth and spirited enthusiasm. If I had entered the office cradling a kitten wearing a bear onesie, I could not have hoped to receive a more tender-hearted reception to my fledgling foray into this not-that-new-fangled technology.
I didn’t join the agency from a universe entirely removed from the digital world. As a copywriter, I respected the value of a good piece of kit on which to work and the programmes that make working easier. I possessed a very nice MacBook Air that I was not ashamed to trot around with. I had an active online life and was generally au fait with trends in social media, but until now I had never felt compelled to part with my robust, 5-day-battery-life-Nokia C1 phone. This was due in part to a conscious decision not to allow my cyber world to infiltrate every other aspect of my life. I had been fairly happy with my quaint little pay-as-you-go mobile, which I’d only really used for texts and which cost me mere pence to run. The ringtone was so quiet it sounded like it was ringing from inside a tomb; it only stored a dozen pictures at a time (so I had to choose carefully between blurry pictures of my newborn son and those of his first steps); it even strained under the effort of receiving texts longer than 200 characters; but these felt like quirks rather than major irritations.
After a short time working at Organic I recognised that my affection for my ‘vintage’ handset, and in some ways, lifestyle, was not compatible with my new role. A wealth of jargon was unfolding before me; such phrases as ‘push notification’ had not, until now, required my understanding. There were bits of the web I didn’t know existed that needed copy. Things like ‘offer streams’ sounded generously abundant, but I’d never shopped from one, and for me, androids were firmly secured in the realms of science fiction.
The account managers were patient with me while I began to embark on a (I hoped) short but (inevitably) steep learning curve to bring myself into the current day. As I tentatively tapped the screen of the new handset in my palm as though I were massaging the heart of an insensate mouse, colleagues supplied helpful tips and hacks, guiding my faltering fingers towards apps I’d heard about but didn’t really understand the value of. There were apps that offered to walk me home safely after dark, and others that would award me with shields when I’d walked a certain distance; there was even one that simulated the hum and flashes of a lightsabre.
Novelty aside, what really began to make me app-happy was the potential to gain an insight into human behaviour. There are apps for most of the things people do in their lives: listen to music, watch films, play games, chat, date, exchange information, bid, gamble – and through an app such activities are measurable and yield fascinating information. Clients can use this information in campaigns, but for me it is the sociological and psychological significance of the findings that create the best opportunities for using language inventively.
I can now appreciate the impact of social media beyond its function of superficially augmenting my social life. In my capacity at Organic I can monitor tipping points, observe ideas going viral, watch politics shift, attitudes transform and history unfold. All this is likely to be not at all astonishing to anyone who has worked their way through the various generations of smartphone, but if you’ve deliberately kept yourself ensconced in a communication time capsule then you soon realise that stepping out of it 5 years into the future takes you completely beyond the joy of text, and instead brings together every possible image, language, idea and interaction into a tiny space that sits in your hand like a portal to the rest of the world.
Naomi Ziewe Palmer joined Organic as a copywriter in October 2015.