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Real life is ana­logue

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In 1970, Otis John­son was ar­rested for as­sault­ing a cop. Not a good idea for a black man in Amer­ica. The charge was up­graded to at­tempted mur­der and John­son was jailed for life. He didn’t see the out­side world for an­other 44 years. In 2015, he was let out – he was given two bus tick­ets and $40. He was 25 when he went in­side, he was 69 when he came out. I watched a video about his re­lease. The world took some get­ting used to, as you can imag­ine. But what we can’t imag­ine is what fas­ci­nated him about the modern world. It wasn’t self-driving cars or space travel. It wasn’t the fall of the USSR or the first black pres­i­dent. It wasn’t GPS or the in­ter­net. It wasn’t drones or dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy. It was see­ing what was on the su­per­mar­ket shelves. He picked up a jar and looked through the glass at the swirls of grape jelly and peanut but­ter and shook his head.

He said: “I ain’t never seen noth­ing like that be­fore: peanut but­ter and jelly in the same place in a jar. That’s strange.” He be­gan to try drinks he’d never seen be­fore.

“What do you call it: that gator stuff? Pink and blue, all these dif­fer­ent colours. I like to try it just be­cause it looks so funny.” And Aunt Jemima – not just the tra­di­tional pan­cake mix he ex­pected but Cin­na­mon French Toast. He said: “I eat dif­fer­ent things now. I’m look­ing at all the crazy stuff they got.” These were the changes that amazed Otis John­son. His only en­counter with tech­nol­ogy was try­ing to use a pub­lic phone. He found it was a dol­lar, not 25 cents like he re­mem­bered. So did any modern dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy im­press him? Just one ex­am­ple. He said: “I ain’t never seen no videos on no shop win­dows be­fore.” And he stood watch­ing. The only other dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy he no­ticed was “peo­ple talk­ing to them­selves. They had these things in their ears. Ev­ery­body done be­came CIA agents – that’s the only thing I can think of.” Of course, he was talk­ing about iphones.

But what was the most amaz­ing thing about iphones for Otis?

“The way they con­trol them­selves to walk and talk with­out even look­ing where they’re go­ing.” We’d ex­pect Otis to be amazed by dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy. But he wasn’t, be­cause none of that had any rel­e­vance to him. What had rel­e­vance was the way the things he knew had changed. That’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween the vis­ceral and the in­tel­lec­tual. Real life is ana­logue, not dig­i­tal. That’s what sep­a­rated Steve Jobs from all his com­peti­tors. Steve Jobs didn’t start with tech­nol­ogy, he started with the con­sumer. A dig­i­tal so­lu­tion to an ana­logue prob­lem. We could learn from Steve Jobs. Start with un­der­stand­ing the con­sumer, not just un­der­stand­ing the tech­nol­ogy. I know that’s heresy. So let’s give the last word to Bill Bern­bach. “Hu­man na­ture hasn’t changed for a mil­lion years. It won’t change in the next mil­lion years. Only the su­per­fi­cial things have changed. It’s fash­ion­able to talk about the chang­ing man. A com­mu­ni­ca­tor must be con­cerned with the un­chang­ing man – what com­pul­sions drive him, what in­stincts dom­i­nate his ev­ery ac­tion, even though his lan­guage too of­ten cam­ou­flages what re­ally mo­ti­vates him.”

“His only en­counter with tech­nol­ogy was a pub­lic phone”

 ??  ?? Dave Trott is the author of Cre­ative Mis­chief, Preda­tory Think­ing and One Plus One Equals Three
Dave Trott is the author of Cre­ative Mis­chief, Preda­tory Think­ing and One Plus One Equals Three

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