By Alexis Pinard, strategic planner
Following the content marketing conference I gave with fellow Cossetter Mikaël Lebleu, several colleagues in the communications field had the same thing to say: “Alexis, digital atomization is kinda like your haircut—some rationale or explanation would be welcome.” So here it goes. I’ll shed some light on this new concept of mine and, as far as my current coif is concerned… let’s just say some things are better left unsaid (and untamed).
First of all, atomization is a concept I use to describe a phenomenon caused by two correlated factors. The surge in mobile devices and the explosion of social platforms have literally atomized (in the sense of vaporized) our actual presence and our state of presence, resulting in an unprecedented ability to now be in several places at one time.
Let’s take a hypothetical—and I mean completely hypothetical—situation. Say you’re in a meeting. It’s dragging on, and seems to be going nowhere (still hypothetically speaking, of course). Then just when you’re about to add a couple of emoticons to a Facebook conversation or send a text message… Poof! You’ve been atomized—without even lifting a finger (because technically, you typed those texts with your thumbs)!
Your now fragmented presence illustrates a phenomenon described in quantum physics—the superposition of quantum states. The best-known example is that of the cat-in-the-box thought experiment devised by Austrian physicist Edwin Schrödinger. This involved a cat, a box and a mechanism that snuffed out poor Whiskers, two times out of four. Based on the principle that it is absolutely impossible to know what’s going on inside the box, Schrödinger wanted to demonstrate that the cat had to be considered both dead and alive. It revolutionized our way of thinking, by showing not only the limitations of the “Classics” realm, but by simply pointing out at the many aberrations and oddities caused by the functional failure of determinism.
It’s no accident that I used the quantum physics analogy. On the contrary, I chose it to illustrate where we are today—at the same point as Schrödingers of the world when they were discovering the conceptual and physical limits of classical physics. Like technology, all-encompassing digitalization has atomized the traditional marketing communications model and, more importantly, has allowed us to shake up the way we see things.
The Millennial mirage
Now let’s take a concrete example—good ol’ Millennials. We always need them. In fact, I asked for some for my birthday. What’s troubling is to see the amount of time, energy and resources spent trying to understand them and put them in neat little boxes.
Why? Well, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, although Millennials now surpass Baby Boomers in terms of numbers in the U.S., they are the generation that identifies the least with the label society has given them (79% for Boomers and 58% for Gen Xers, vs. 40% for Millennials). Plus, this is a growing trend driven by an astonishing rate of negative growth as well as the fact that two out of three Millennials do not identify themselves as such.
The end of gender
Digital atomization is just the tip of the iceberg—conventional determinants like age, employment, ethnicity or country of origin have gone out the window. Our previous notions of gender, both literal and figurative, have been forever transformed. All within a dynamic and volatile model where action must always be supported by a sense of awareness that is both renewed and renewable, and information gathering that is both sensitive and sensible.
So I say to you today, let’s become our own version of quantum physicists, atomic communicators. Let’s leave behind pre-conceived notions of social groupings and other so-called “normal” principles. Let’s stop thinking only in terms of persona. Instead, let’s think about what’s happening at the atomic level, about the individual—their interests, influences, passions and problems, and what makes them who they are, instead of what we want to make of them. About what they say to us, rather than what we want to say to them.
Because putting a cat in a box may seem like a funny thing to do.
But putting people in a box is no laughing matter.