These days, marketers are doing a lot more than developing advertisements and public relations campaigns. They are actively developing, investing in and helping to shape all kinds of digital innovations, from mobile applications to wearables.
Given that marketers are increasingly expected to be digital innovators, it’s worth asking the big questions about what digital-fueled progress means for humanity, and whether it can save us all.
If an alien species had the ability to monitor our television, radio and Internet traffic, I wonder what they would think? Would they conclude that humanity is fascinated with its own death?
Think for a moment about the most popular television programs, movies and books of the day. Here are a few: “The Road,” “12 Monkeys,” The Passage, The Strain, theSilo Trilogy and“The Walking Dead.” What do these diverse fictional projects have in common? They are all heavily focused on how humanity deals with the aftermath of civilization-ending diseases, wars and other catastrophes.
What's driving our fascination with post-apocalyptic scenarios? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that some believe humanity's many problems, threats and flaws will one day lead to our doom. They doubt that we'll ever be able to live in ways that allow us to satisfy humankind's never-ending thirst for progress and comfort while preserving our planet and allowing us to live in harmony with others.
But, there are other people who feel very, very differently. While they come from different backgrounds and ways of thinking and being, they all believe that innovation and progress will save humanity.
I don't think it's possible to underestimate the importance of this optimistic perspective. In fact, grappling with its implications forces us to move far beyond the somewhat narrow ways innovation is often discussed on the Web. The many listicles published on sites like LinkedIn tend to focus on what innovation means to individuals, to companies, to organizations and to products. But what could innovation do for humanity? Could it save us all?
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of engaging in an extensive conversation with Byron Reese. He has a marketing background and is author of the book, Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger and War. He is also an optimist. He strongly believes that rather approaching its end, humanity is about to enter a golden age of progress fueled by digital tools and technologies — many of them in health.
He argues that hunger, death, sickness, hate and other ills are simply technical problems that will one day be solved by technology. It's an audacious concept, but one that must be taken seriously.
What would it mean, for example, to conquer mortality? How would we look at the world differently? Would the urge to reproduce disappear? Would art suffer?
Technology is never cheap (especially initial versions). If nanotechnology can do things like cure cancer, will society organize itself into health haves and have nots even more than we do so today?
These are all questions with no easy answers. But, I encourage you to think about them carefully. After all, life-changing innovations often come from the most unexpected places.
One more thing, if you’d like to learn more about Byron and his perspective on innovation, please listen to a conversation I recorded with him by clicking here.