The 7 most frightening things I heard at Vision

Brain hats, screenagers and Facebook addiction – is this a Vision of tomorrow we should embrace?

By: Clare Howdle,   2 minutes

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Today I drank a lot of coffee. Today I shook my head. Today I baulked in fear, I reeled with disbelief, I dropped my jaw in shock. Today I ate salad and cake and my words, a few times. Today I got goosebumps. Today was a good day.

Vision 2014 – held at the Arnolfini in Bristol – was billed as two days of creative freedom. I only had one. So I had to make it count.

I took in five talks that spanned everything from how the brand > consumer relationship has changed forever (no more of the above, thank goodness) to digital disruption to chilled drinks – and sometimes I couldn’t believe what was being said. So here are the most frightening things I heard in the last 24 hours:

1.Brands like Coors Light are using neuroscience and ‘brain hats’ to work out exactly what type of humour to use in their content.

2. People are getting ‘really excited’ about emoticons.

3. The UK is the only country in the world where you can get treated for Facebook addiction.

4. The average attention span of a westerner is eight seconds.

5. Milennials don’t exist. We should be talking about screenagers.

6. “What we sell to Coca Cola is receptive human brain time” (a quote from a big cheese at ITV1)

7. All we need to do to ensure mass extinction is just carry on the way we are.

There was of course much more besides, but what stuck with me through every talk was how digital, social and brand thinking is now increasingly rooted in watching, measuring, reacting to and predicting how we are behaving and consuming. The very idea of the information-saturated, data-tracked ‘myth of infinite growth,’ which we are all perpetuating, turned me cold.

This might sound like I’m about to dive into Bristol’s floating harbour never to return, and at one point I wasn’t far off, but something pulled me back from the edge. Something that made my hairs stand up.

And it wasn’t from just one speaker. And it wasn’t from just one conversation. It was the overwhelming groundswell of people interested in change. Not for their businesses, or for themselves – but for society. A change in the way we work, the way we measure success, the way we think about what’s important. If this little cluster of humans is anything to go by, the lure of finding a different way to do things is strong, not to mention deemed necessary.

The very idea of the information-saturated, data-tracked ‘myth of infinite growth,’ which we are all perpetuating turned me cold.

 And if, as Jonathan Wise told us, Unilever really does believe that in the future it will become the biggest NGO in the world, then maybe there is hope for humanity after all.

In fact, Wise left us with a challenge that might just become my mantra for 2015 (no, I don’t have an annual mantra. Although I might from here on in). In the words of American poet, Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Right now, thinking about that is a rather exciting prospect…

Over and out Vision. Thanks for a thought provoking day.

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