AB Thinks  →  19th August 2016

Decoding the future

AB Thinks

At a time of exponential technological and societal change, writing about the future is inherently fraught with risk. Articles, tweets, books and blogs can become obsolete very quickly.

But despite this occupational hazard, a new online publication – MARGINALIA – The Future of Work magazine – is boldly offering insight and analysis across a range of issues, including innovation, leadership and communication.

Its founder, Gloria Lombardi, created the magazine to identify developments that have the potential to shape industries, change how employees work and perhaps force CEOs to create imaginative strategies to help them thrive in ever evolving and turbulent technological and political climates.

We caught up with Gloria in July to learn more about MARGINALIA and the topics the publication explores.

Perhaps we can start with a quick introduction: where did the idea of MARGINALIA come from?

The reason I launched the publication was to offer insight and help readers navigate this fascinating era in which to work – and, indeed, to live – and to understand the latest developments and new ecosystems of innovation, communication and leadership. MARGINALIA has been focusing on how new technology is influencing the way we work and the human-machine relationship, among other things.

I also hoped the magazine would inspire people and get them thinking about the opportunities available to them.

The world of communications must have changed a lot since you first started studying it. How has the way we consume content changed?

My first observation is that it’s not the way that we consume content but the ways. It’s an understatement to say that there has been a revolution – there is not a homogenous way of consuming and each of us has a preference in what we want to consume and how we want to consume it. There is no binary choice.

All of the major publications have undergone huge transformations, embracing mobile technology and especially social media. Technology has created huge opportunities for how we use social media and mobile and these are now the main ways that we consume content. It isn‰’t the future any more – it is simply the basis of how we communicate today.

What impact has social media had?

The rise of social media platforms has meant that the way we consume content really makes an impact at the root of communities. You see news coming from unofficial sources – people sharing their own opinions at events, reporting on their own. And then that report can be shared with thousands of followers.

Twitter has of course completely revolutionised how we consume. But even though it sometimes seems that today it‰’s better to be real-time, short and engaging, we have a huge opportunity to not only access content, but to experiment with it and share it across multiple platforms.

At a time of rapid technological advancement, it is especially important to experiment and take measured risks.

Do you think knowing your audience is more important than ever?

Yes, I think it is absolutely key. We work in communication so we always know that the audience comes first!

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t experiment. From one day to the next, you can now be met with something new and exciting and it’s important to try these new tools out. It should really be seen as an opportunity to learn more and test ways to engage with your audience.

With the recent explosion of PokЬЉmon Go, I was thinking about the author Alvin Toffler’s argument that very rapid technological advancement could lead to societal paralysis. It‰’s an attractive argument – more so considering that he came up with the idea in the 1970s! Do you think that technology has in any way become a barrier to engaging with an audience?

I think it’s very important to understand what paralysis looks like. Mobile has become compatible with life, and because of that there might in fact be even more appetite to consume. There has been a lot of research to confirm this. Technology continues to advance so quickly and I think it is very difficult to see when we would reach any breaking point with one particular technology or platform.

Soon, with the Internet of Things, our cars will be linked with our phones, which will be linked with our fridges. Perhaps because the technology will so naturally exist alongside us, we won’t be paralysed as such…

Absolutely. You can see how the latest technology is always trying to merge the digital and the physical world, to integrate the two so seamlessly. And the future of technology is already happening – virtual reality, augmented reality, the rise is artificial intelligence. This is already the new way we work.

Recently, there was a very interesting campaign conducted by M&C Saatchi, E.ON and the Swedish Swimming Federation. They asked children who were scared of swimming to wear VR headsets and through those they experienced what it was like to swim in a pool. Once they had experienced that, they were able to overcome their fear. I believe that this is going to be the type of content in the future.

A new benchmark…

Yes, exactly. You mentioned PokЬЉmon Go, which is using augmented reality for a different use – to help you catch monsters! And there are so many apps that are doing this.

Another is a new social app called Check. It uses iBeacon technology – which basically uses geolocation sensors – and wherever you go you can see the social media profile of people around you. Then you can start building the relationship using your mobile. It’s matching the physical and digital world and giving people the opportunity to have new, exciting experiences.

And when it comes to work?

One company that is very interesting is Oblong. They use the idea from the film Minority Report to create a user interface with the aim of helping teams from across the world see multiple sources of information to enable them to collaborate. They created a platform called Mezzanine where people can see each other and work on a single document in real-time. Again, it is bringing the physical and digital worlds together, creating an opportunity for people around the world to relate, communicate and consume content at the same time.

A lot of the articles that you publish on MARGINALIA are long form. There’s been a return to that format in recent years – there‰’s ‰‘the long read‰’ on the Guardian‰’s website, or longform.org – and it appears that people are now happy to engage with much longer written content online. Was it a conscious decision to publish longer pieces?

Absolutely. And, interestingly, the long form pieces are the most-read. I publish 10 pieces a week – and one is always a long form article. The reason I do that is that I wanted to examine the potential of these stories. But, of course, length doesn’t mean quality.

As I said earlier, in reality there is not a homogenous way of consuming content and it’s important to remember that at this time of great digital transformation, there are many different generations coming together online. I don’t like to stereotype – but, of course, in some ways Generation Z are different to Generation Y. Generation Z are not just tech savvy, they are ‘tech innate’, they are creators and collaborators, and just because they share a snap on Snapchat, doesn’t mean they don’t like reading, or won’t read something long form.

It’s important to recognise the difference: what do people what to learn? What are they interested in? Are they realists? Optimists? Some people like to use technology all the time; some are more hesitant.

Having an open mind and an experimental attitude is very important. Almost every single day there is something new – it is an opportunity to try it and see if it works for you.