September 29th, 2020
Hello, Is Anybody There?
It seems that we all might be adjusting to this thing called social distancing and virtual events/meetings. Meanwhile, not all of us love it, but you have to admit that it’s working quite nicely to keep the business world turning.
In addition to journalism and writing for magazines, over the course of my career I’ve also spent a fair amount of time working for marketing firms and advertising agencies (mostly as a copywriter and creative consultant). In the process, one thing that took some adjusting to includes the ways in which they approach workflow and creativity. As a “country boy” who was raised on the concept of keeping your nose to the grindstone, the idea of pausing to play a little foosball in order to get our “juices” flowing, or having a creative director plop a 12-pack down in the middle of a conference table were things I had a tough time accepting. In fact, I don’t think I ever did accept them, so much as I just played along (pun intended). Maybe I’m old school, but personally my thinking is more in line with Andy Rooney, who once said, “My advice is not to wait to be struck by an idea. If you’re a writer, you sit down and damn well decide to have an idea.”
I will never forget an experience I had with one agency, where they decided that in the name of creativity, they would take an entirely new—and somewhat bazaar—approach to meetings. The entire creative department was asked to create an account and a graphical avatar in what looked like a video game. In reality (or virtual reality, to be accurate) it was an application that allows you to interact through a virtual workplace, where we all gathered to communicate through our “characters.”
No offense to anyone who’s tried this and may have even liked it, but I can tell you—it was not my cup of tea. If you ask me, the whole experience was just downright strange. But looking back on it, I also think it was just way ahead of its time.
Several weeks ago, [DWM]’s parent company held its first ever virtual event: GlassCon Global – GlassExpo VE. And I have to say, it felt a little weird at first, too. But by day two, it really didn’t feel strange at all. Instead, it felt different, but familiar. You entered through a lobby, then clicked on signs leading to various places, like a trade show floor and an auditorium. As a result, I think people knew exactly what to do and how to do it.
But you know what? About halfway through the first day, I kept reflecting on that strange experience I had years ago, as an avatar, and I couldn’t help wondering: Could that be a next logical step in all of this? The part of me who remembers how awkward that was hopes not; but the part of me who wants a more gratifying virtual experience thinks … maybe?
For the average adult, I think this concept represents a stretch—even today. But in the years ahead, I don’t think it will be a stretch at all and let me tell you why.
As my kids endure social isolation, they’ve done as kids do—they’ve learned to work the system in order to find connections. They’ve also discovered how to combine technologies. In addition to FaceTime calls, my kids are also playing age-appropriate role-play games. (I’m sure someone out there is also living with a little Roblox addict.)
It’s amazing to see how they’re able to explore and interact in those virtual settings. Part of me hates it. But another part is glad they have it.
They get together to custom design houses, drive cars, operate businesses—you name it. It’s unbelievable. And while they would prefer to meet their friends on the playground, these virtual avenues have filled in quite nicely.
For our next show (which doesn’t apply to [DWM], or not by much, at least) our parent company is planning what we’re calling a “hybrid.” There will be a physical show (to which I say: thank God), but for those uncomfortable with attending, there will also be a virtual interface. Again, I know I’m biased, but I think anyone can admit what an intriguing concept this is—one that, depending on its success, could go in any number of directions. Might this become a regular thing? If we all get hooked enough on virtual formats, maybe some folks will at least want the option. At the same time, a “hybrid” show is just one step away from returning to the real thing.
If we do go an all-virtual route in the future, I might not love it (at all), but I’ll learn to live with it. At the same time, I think I’ll be the first to find a cheat code. Up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right will take me to the other side of a show floor. Virtual or not, that would be great.