A CTRL ALT Delete Interview with Mitch Joel

Canadian blogger and bald brother of another mother Mitch Joel released his new book CTRL ALT Delete today. The book captures the zeitgesit of workplace change caused by a universal shift towards digital media. Mitch discusses embracing digital change to survive and succeed.

To celebrate the arrival of CTRL ALT Delete, I asked Mitch several questions, including his take on Google Glass, the individual’s role in the workforce and more. Check it out, and don’t forget to pick up a copy of CTRL ALT Delete.

GL: CTRL ALT Delete focuses on change, and of course a big change may be coming with Google Glass. How do you see wearable computing hastening the mobile untethered (and somewhat free) work life?

MJ: I had the chance to wear and tinker with Google Project Glass at this past year’s TED conference. My expectations were not high and the product blew me away (big time). There has been a lot of online discussion about what it means to be wearing these pair of Internet-enabled glasses that made me think that this technology was not ready for prime time. That online discussion is wrong.

The discourse has been around everything from the weight and feel of the glasses (they feel great and don’t weigh much at all… in fact, they were surprisingly light), to privacy (how do we know when peoplewearing the glasses are recording everything?), to more privacy issues (canGoogle see, capture and use everything our eyes now see?) to how we interact with one another (will we be paying attention to the people in front of us or the screen?).

But here’s the thing: Google glasses is an intermediarytechnology. Nothing more. Nothing less.

[Glass] is the first step in removing ushuman beings from having to hold on to a technology that must be manipulated by our fingers as we move to wearable technology that is manipulated with our eyes and our voice. That is the first big step. Beyond this movement away from having to carry a device in our pockets, it is the intermediary until we’re at the next big step, when any surface can project the information it shares, instead of having to wear the actual screen over our eyes.

Once you wear the glasses and feel what it’s like to receive audio via bone conduction, speakcommands and have it move through your choices seamlessly, it becomes immediately clear that the future is not in wearing glasses just because something has to house the screen, but the ability to just see the content anywhere and everywhere. A true heads up display for life. And that’s going to do many things at work involving productivity, connectedness and the transfer of information.

GL: Do you think Glass itself will be a hit, or are we dealing with overhype?

MJ: There is no doubt that wearable technology and products like Google’s glasses are a peek into what the world will look like in the not-so-distant future. Still, it feels like an intermediary technology as it quickly evolves to a more interesting area: one where the screen can be anywhere and everywhere.

So, if you think people who wear Google Glasses will be ignoring you as they stare at their screen, I would caution you to look at the current state of our world, where a circle of friends often includes some who are on their smartphones and not being active participants in the moment. While Apple races to deliver their first iteration of wearable technology, Google also proved something powerful with Google Glasses: they have quickly (and once again) become one of the most innovative and fascinating companies in the world. With all of that, it will be hard for this version of Google Glasses to live up to the hype.

GL: Your book says everything is going digital, and to avoid it would be a business disaster. What role does the real world have in a digital media life?

MJ: When we’re on Twitter or Facebook or blogging are we not in the real world? When we’re online, are we fake? Is our online avatar simply that: a representation of who you would like to be instead of who you really are?

People will look at me sideways when I say that digital media is the real world. They don’t buy it. They think that you can’t create and nurture a “real” relationship online. Anything “real” has to take place in the “physical” world. This is not clear to me. It’s confusing, and it often confuses me when I think about it. I am typing this in the real world, using real emotions. I am using real words. I don’t consider any of this virtual. I don’t consider any of this fake or inauthentic.

If we say that everything online is not “the real world,” we are – to some extent – diminishing it, dismissing it and making it seem less substantive than it is. Does this blog post hold less value to you because it’s not on a page stapled to other pages with similar articles andads? Don’t get me wrong, pressing the flesh and meeting in our protein forms is critical.

This is not about removing the human factor and the amazing collaboration that happens when we meet in person, but when you’re online, you’re still in the real world. When you’re online there is still a human factor and real collaboration does happen when individuals are not in the same room. For me it’s all about the fact that digital permeates the physical and vice-versa now.

GL: You offer personal advice for career development in the book. What do you think of the statement, “Great practitioners don’t work for companies, they work with them (regardless of employee or contractor status)?”

MJ: It’s a powerful sentiment. It is something I lament about the marketing world. It used to be that agencies and clients would sit – side by side – and sweat the small stuff together. It has become a world of procurement, vendors and projects. Even the notion of “agency of record” seems somewhat onerous.

I think it’s true that the truly great practitioners don’t work for companies, but that they work [with] them. The challenge is that these companies need to also believe in that philosophy and have it baked into their DNA. That is something that I wished there was truly more of in our business world.

GL: What’s the future for large enterprises in the face of increasing fragmentation of media and work life?

MJ: I don’t think size matters in relation to the fragmentation of media and work life. Google is a pretty big organization, so is Facebook. I do think that the classic structure of what large enterprises offers will have to change.

In my business, clients aren’t just looking for ads anymore, butrather business transformation. They want business solutions to help them augment the brand and build more credibility. Data, research and strategy have slowly crept into the creative department and now the work is much more than a thirty-second spot or a contest.

Digital has given us the ability to better inform our idea and the net result is that advertising for the sake of creativity is now more like a stunt than the foundational work of what the brand truly represents. This doesn’t mean that agencies or brands are getting smaller, it means that they need and require different types of people withdifferent types of skillsets. It feels like the same applies to other industries as well.

GL: Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A simple thank you. Thank you for reading this and I’m hopeful that they will consider buying copious amounts of my new book, CTRL ALT Delete. I would also like to tell your readers to dig deeper into all things Geoff Livingston. I have know you for years and the way you think, operate and share is something that should be celebrated a lot more in our world. So, thank you for your many contributions – they have pushed my thinking in many new directions. Thank you.