Jeremy Ettinghausen

Jeremy is Innovation Director, BBH Labs & BBH London.

A Year of Linking Dangerously

Angie & Me, by Eric Pickersgill, from the series 'Removed'

Wow. That was a year. Below a month-by-month selection of the linking and thinking that kept us ticking in 2015. Thanks, as always for reading and sharing so generously and thanks in particular to the many many thinkers, makers and doers who have inspired us this year. Happy Holidays.

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January kicked off with some predictions and questions for the year ahead. We learned that brands should be wary of saying BAE and that new media continued to attract emigres from bastions of ‘old’ media. Our ‘media diet’ (in Mark Zuckerberg’s words) included a novel made of gifsa choose your own adventure story on twitter and an ad for facebook from 1995.

February was all about the numbers. 1000 chrome experiments. Buzzfeed’s big, big day. A tinder bot made 21 matches, we learned that 15% of the half billion daily searches were new to google and that a five second film could make a jolly good 3 minute pop video.

In March, SXSW happened again. Disney nailed user experience, Tinder got into the surge pricing business, General Electric digitized BBQ-ing, Argos got on the 3D Printing wagon and best of all, Jim Carroll started a blog!

A quiet month, April, apart from esports discovering performance enhancing drugs, the algorithmic bots reading our tweets for stock tips, the first brand story told on Whatsapp, the unveiling of Windows Holographic, this history of Rube Goldberg machines and a fitness tracker that generates bitcoin from your exercise.

Millenials stopped to dance on the beach in May and the rumblings of the content wars that would last the rest of the year were first heard. Delta meme-ified their flight safety film, Slack thought about the sound of emoji, Yahoo! told us to use filters if we want our pics liked, and GIPHY RELEASED A GMAIL GIFIFICATION CHROME EXTENSION!!!! And lastly, Mad Men finally got with the programme.

‘People didn’t really like anything about our product’ read one entry in this directory of failed startups. Then, a GoPro ‘fell’ from space, algorithms got into art criticism, HoloLens + Minecraft = awesome, Taylor Swift got on and got off a royalty high horse and then all our afternoons disappeared watching TumblrTV. June. Quite a month, eh?

The launch of Apple music dominated the first week of July – could radio be about to make an unlikely comeback? And in other music news, some guy made a whole album in an Apple store, the Youtubers climbed abord the rock’n’roll tour bus. And while we experienced the joy of deep-dreamify-ing stock photography, the rest of the month was filled with a sense of loss, ennui and ‘exponential despair‘. So much for summer.

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An obituary for Google+, Jack’s Baa-aaa-aack (well, on his way back), hipsters on fixies confuse Google’s self-driving cars, google became alphabet, adblocking became ‘a thing’ worthy of serious consideration, Vanity Fair laid the blame for the ‘dating apocalypse’ at the door of Tinder and the Ashley Madison hack rattled nerves. Befuddled by all of August’s ‘news’, we sought solace in nostalgia, reveling in this history of the Space Jam website and relishing Cameron’s World, a paean to simpler, more wholesome times.

Is productivity really all there is? Was flash really so bad? What can pollsters learn from social media experts? Is advertising trapped in a vicious Immodium/Ex-lax downward spiral? Do we really want a web without ads? How do Pixar tug on our heartstrings so? Was Minority Report a documentary? Can too much TV be a bad thing? Oh September, always with the questions.

Labs’ October was bookended by a couple of highlights – firstly the welcome return of Labs crush Jonathan Harris whose long overdue new work, Network Effect, made us ask ourselves the question ‘Did we make the Internet better today?‘. And at the end of the month, we helped with the third incarnation of SXW1, BBH London’s digital expo, inspired this year by it’s TOTALLY coincidental simultaneity with Back to the Future day.

MORE MORE MORE, from Network Effects, used with permission of the artist.

MORE MORE MORE, from Network Effects, used with permission of the artist.

In November, we picked a fight with advertising legend Dave Trott. We wrung our hands in anguish over signs that we live in a post-literate society. We fretted about what Facebook’s content push meant for traditional publishers. We asked how many of our media colleagues were slacking. We broke the internet, on purpose. And we mentally prepared ourselves for the awakening of the Force.

Nearly there now. The best Twitter bots of the year. The economics of social media fame. A working cellphone in Minecraft! The appeal of VR. And the potential problem of VR’s appeal. People are naming their babies after instagram filters. Yes, really. And last but not least, ‘Advertising is thankless. Morally dubious. Usually pointless. Shockingly dysfunctional … There’s no education like it in the world.’

So, thanks, advertising. Let’s do it again in 2016, ok?

 

tl;dr – some recent longreads

TL;DR

Yes, we know that it’s all about video these days and streaming boxsets and hashtags and old people marooned on the moon, but for thousands of years humankind has used words to convey complex ideas and so here are lots of words, with a roundup of some of the best longreads that have recently crossed our tablets.

 

  1. Selfie – A long, passionate and provocative defense of the selfie, ‘an artifact and a gift’.

Selfies, though, are all about looking away. They are not a closed loop​. T​hey are a new and vibrant language. Selfies never exist in a vacuum. Once they go live, they have adventures, they go out and ​make friends. They are born by waves, digital driftwood: millions of faces washing up on various shores, launching various ships. They ​voyage ahead ​and probe new communities, and sometimes they bring back stories. Our selfies are weightless versions of ourselves, with wings.

2.   The Story Trap – why do we fall back to narrative to describe complex phenomena?

We need narrative not because it is a valid epistemological description of the world but because of its cognitive role. It’s how we make sense of things. An inability to render life experiences into a coherent narrative is characteristic of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Text that fails to deliver narrative coherence, for example in terms of relating cause to effect and honouring the expectations of readers, is harder to understand.

3.   The Doomsday Invention – profile of Nick Bostrom, AI philosopher and author of SuperIntelligence

In people, intelligence is inseparable from consciousness, emotional and social awareness, the complex interaction of mind and body. An A.I. need not have any such attributes. Bostrom believes that machine intelligences—no matter how flexible in their tactics—will likely be rigidly fixated on their ultimate goals. How, then, to create a machine that respects the nuances of social cues? That adheres to ethical norms, even at the expense of its goals? No one has a coherent solution. It is hard enough to reliably inculcate such behavior in people.

4.   User Behaviour – on the UI and ethics of Internet Addiction

A handful of corporations determine the basic shape of the web that most of us use every day. Many of those companies make money by capturing users’ attention, and turning it into pageviews and clicks. They’ve staked their futures on methods to cultivate habits in users, in order to win as much of that attention as possible. Successful companies build specialised teams and collect reams of personalised data, all intended to hook users on their products.

5.   Inside the Sony Hack – a gripping account of life inside Sony in the days and weeks after the hack.

The telephone directory vanished. Voicemail was offline. Computers became bricks.  Internet access on the lot was shuttered. The cafeteria went cash-only. Contracts—and the templates those contracts were based on—disappeared. Sony’s online database of stock footage was unsearchable … “It was like moving back into an earlier time,” one employee says. The only way to reach other Sony staffers was to dial their number directly—if you could figure out what it was—or hunt them down and talk face to face.

Well, that little lot should fill your reading quota for the week – please let us know of any longreads worth sharing in the comments below.

f5 f5 f5 and breathe

f5 f5 f5 f5 and breathe.

Aaaaaah.

f5 and f5 and f5 yeaaaaaaah.

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Refreshing my browser doesn’t usually provoke such catharsis. But for the last 24 hours any attempt to revisit a previously reviewed page has resulted in being bounced to google search. So perhaps my reaction is a little more understandable.

But you might lose any sympathy when I tell you that I broke my internet on purpose. In the interests of science. With myself as the rat in a hall of mirrors of my own design.

Because I wanted to see what would happen if I forced myself to only go forward on the web, to break my surfing habits, to forge new digital trails and discover new lands. To turn my back on the familiar and the routine. To not check Facebook a half dozen times a day. To maybe avoid the distraction of my regular web browsing, or at least find new distractions.

So I got our Alex Matthews, our Creative Tech guru, to build me a browser extension that, when activated, only let me visit particular web pages once. That visit added them to a ban list and any attempt to revisit bounced to google homepage. I whitelisted google sites since our work email runs off google apps – I didn’t think that I’d be able to use ‘Amateur Science’ as an excuse for not replying to email.

Simultaneously I ran some extensions tracking my browsing and web activity to see if I either spent less time online or visited a greater variety of sites with the blocker turned on. The results, I must admit, are inconclusive. Work does get in the way of pure academic research. I had to turn the blocker off quite regularly to get anything done at all. I also found myself cheating my own experiment – browsing in incognito mode where I didn’t have the blocker activated. Using my phone to check twitter and other sites. But yes, I did use less internet with the blocker activated, largely out of frustration.

Of course, a browser extension that stops you revisiting the same old web is only partially interesting. What if instead of bouncing to google it displayed a list of previously unvisited web pages related to the site you had tried to visit? Could it become a serendipitous discovery engine based on the sites you already visit and enjoy? There isn’t really an alternative to facebook or twitter or netflix, but for news and entertainment and sports and tech reviews and online video there is plenty of scope for diversification. ‘Here’s something new’ trumps ‘You can’t go back’ and we’re talking about integrating this into a future release.
A 2010 Nielsen survey reveals that on average people visit 89 sites in a given month. So far in November I have visited over 350. On this computer. Which is one of four connected devices I used on any given day. The point of the Don’t Go Back extension experiment was two-fold. First, to force me to take a look at my online behaviour and maybe make some changes to how and where I browse. And second, to demonstrate that it’s a big old web out there with billions of pages to visit and explore and experience. Habits are hard to break – enforced variety might be what’s needed to spice up online life.

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If you want to try out the ‘Don’t go back’ extension and break the internet for yourself, here’s what to do:

– Download Don’t Go Back
– go to chrome://extensions
– select “developer mode” at top of page
– then click “Load unpacked extension”
– select the folder that you unzipped to

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS UNSUPPORTED AND VERY VERY ALPHA SOFTWARE AND YOU INSTALL IT AT YOUR OWN RISK.

The Case for Content

In last week’s Campaign, venerable ad-man Dave Trott launched a salvo aimed at ‘content’, the word and the business of. BBH’s Digital Publishing Director, Richard Cable, responds below.

Shipping Containers at a Chinese Port by Lou Gold

Dear Dave,

We read your article in Campaign with great interest. ‘What is content?’ you asked. You concluded that it wasn’t actually important. Unlike advertising, where the idea is the important thing, ‘content’ is just stuff to be moved around by exciting new ‘delivery systems’. Ideas don’t matter.

So, given that content marketing is now worth £4bn a year in the UK alone, what exactly does everyone think they’re doing?

We can only speak for ourselves, but at BBH we believe there’s a very clear case for content. You’ve raised some excellent challenges and we’ve taken the liberty of addressing them here.

What is content?

‘Content’ is a really bad word, there’s no denying it. Content is just stuff in a container. It’s a word that encompasses rather than differentiates. A bin has content, but then so does a Shakespeare First Folio.

Unfortunately it’s the word we seem to have settled on to describe a new kind of marketing activity that isn’t advertising. It’s the stuff that used to be over the wall that we’d built between Church and State until the digital revolution came along, kicked down that wall and told us we could do whatever the hell we liked.

So here’s a definition.

Where advertising is a marketing communication that interrupts what you are doing (whether you like it or not), content is a marketing communication that you choose to spend time with. It’s not about being the thing people block, skip or ignore, but the thing they appreciate, seek out and share.

That’s arguably a much, much harder proposition to get right – you not only have to answer the question of what’s in it for the brand, but what’s in it for your audience as well – but also potentially much, much more powerful.

It’s all about ‘delivery systems’

By becoming the thing you want to spend time with rather than the thing that interrupts it, content has liberated marketing from the strictures of banners, six sheets and 30 second slots. It can literally be anything you want it to be, from a single tweet or a six second Vine to an immersive virtual experience to an interactive data visualisation to a full blown feature film – and all points in between.

The sheer bewildering versatility of content has the benefit of allowing you to be precisely where your consumers are, which these days is atomised across an ever-burgeoning array of fast moving media platforms. Each of these has its own grammar and its own local rules of engagement. If you’re not mildly obsessive about what success looks like on each, you’re a) not doing your job and b) not going to succeed.

Ideas don’t matter

This is the most serious charge levelled at content and also, arguably, the easiest to dismantle.

Content without ideas simply isn’t content. People don’t buy magazines, or watch films, or read articles, or spend time on social media for the adverts. They are there for the content. More precisely, they are there for the ideas within the content. They are there to be entertained, inspired, informed, moved, engaged. These experiences don’t happen in the absence of ideas.

Content is an unconstrained and endlessly adaptable idea delivery machine designed to build quality relationships with people. Building those relationships demands thought, creativity and craft. Just like advertising.

We think that what you were describing, Dave, was bad content and you were absolutely right to call it out. Like bad advertising, bad content can be genuinely harmful. But good content, like good advertising, is an extremely effective and valuable part of any brand’s marketing arsenal. Great ideas should be at the heart of both.

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This article was first published on Campaign on Tue 3 November

Medium Well Done

Photo by Dustin Lee

Photo by Dustin Lee

A little over a month ago we published our first post on Medium, the first platform we are testing out in our Publishing Laboratory. Since that first piece a further five have been added, for a grand total of 23 minutes of reading as calculated by Medium’s proprietary algorithm.

All combined, our stories have received 3187 views and 1625 reads, with a read ratio of a touch over 53% which strikes us as pretty acceptable. Our most recommended story received 28 recommends, our least popular was liked just eight times, and we got the odd comment and highlight here and there.

Over the same period we’ve published five posts on our trusty stalwart, the BBH Labs blog, a couple of them versions of the Medium posts and three unique to the blog. 4,372 users spent an average of 1.31 minutes on the blog, over 5201 sessions. We had a couple of trackbacks, no comments and, of course, no likes, since this isn’t a metric that we register or measure on the blog.

So, if my shaky maths is correct, people spent a little over 37,ooo minutes reading our posts on Medium as opposed to just under 8000 minutes on the Labs blog. Of course we don’t know whether the time spent on the Labs blog was spent pouring over every em dash and colon – for all we know the blog might have been open in another browser tab while our visitor looked at cat videos on facebook.

What can we take away from this? Well, firstly Medium is a lovely, clean writing platform, a real pleasure to use. It brings a simple (but limited) interface together with an immersive writing experience that does encourage the words to flow. And clearly, Medium is a platform where people come to read – both desktop and mobile versions are optimised for absorbing text, as opposed to imagery or video or audio.

Medium is also most definitely a good platform for sharing content in our area of interest – the intersection of culture and technology and brands. But we have to ask ourselves whether Michael Wolff’s observation about twitter – that it’s a forum for media people to talk about media – is also true of Medium, right now. Maybe Medium is simply a nicer place for our twitter followers to read on, than a platform we can use to reach a new audience with new content.

Lastly, during the course of this first phase of our publishing experiment, Medium underwent a major rehaul of its writing tools, logo and feature set (custom domains!). This is again a reminder that when you are publishing on someone else’s platform you are a guest in their home, using their tools at their whim and as they allow. Medium is lovely to write and read on, and for the dozens of new followers who are joining us there each day we will continue to add to our presence there, but again we are reminded of the importance of having somewhere on the world wide web that we can call home.

Update: Periscope is our new jam and over the next few weeks we’ll be streaming live on occasion over there – make sure you’re following us on twitter to catch the stream as it goes out.

The Nine Nos of Innovation

Last week I spent two days at the glorious British seaside, attending and speaking at Silicon Beach in Bournemouth. Highlights included Louisa Heinrich of Superhuman, on technology as today’s opiate of the masses, a rousing rant from Mark Adams of Vice on attention in the 21st century and Nicklas Bergman, who not only admitted to passing on the opportunity to invest in Spotify, but was also sporting four (visible) wearables AT THE SAME TIME!

Our own contribution, ‘The Nine Nos of Innovation’, is embedded above, and a text only version is available on our Medium channel here.

 

 

Official Partner of the Future

Author: Richard Atkins, Production Director BBH London

Last Monday I went to IFA – the  Consumer electronics show in Berlin (a bit like CES in America)

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Here are my top 5 things.
1. I went to my first World Premiere
It was for a Washing Machine. It didn’t have a red carpet.
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Sony’s version of the VR headset, due early next year. It was great to play on a really interactive game where you weren’t just an observer, but your real-world movement had in-game responses such as ducking out of the way of incoming projectiles or attacking characters yourself.
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3. The future of the office is ‘no desk phones’.
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We visited Wooga, a freemium mobile game company who’s got a number of large successes under their belt – such as Diamond Dash and Jelly Splash. The offices were calm, serene and when someone in our group’s mobile went off it felt like a real intrusion to their space. If they need to make calls or need an even quieter space, then they can go to one of a number of small booths.
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4. Admitting and celebrating projects that don’t always go to full production
Wooga have a ‘Hit Filter’ showing how project cancellation is the norm and how rare it is for a game to make it through to actual publication.
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Their ‘Wall of Fame’ celebrates all jobs created over the past 5 years, not just the ones that have gone live!
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5. Shops will soon calculate the best layouts of shops by wirelessly tagging customer journeys
Mi-Nodes is a new start up which can detect a user’s wifi ping (when your phone searches for a wifi source). Even if the user doesn’t connect to a wifi source, the company can use the data to understand where users go in a store, and what the onward (internal) journey is and in turn how best to lay the store out. So if a customer only ever goes into the immediate ‘shop window’ area to look at some high tech gadgets, but rarely moves further in, the shop might want to move things around so that premium items are further back in the store, forcing the user to pass other items which they might want to upsell in the path of the user’s journey through the store.
This, along with existing techniques such as using cameras gives a great amount of accuracy in order to plan store layouts.
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*Richard went to Berlin as a guest of JCDecaux who own a large portion of the Digital and Non-Digital outdoor sites that we put our ads on.

Introducing The Publishing Laboratory

Author: Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director, BBH London & Labs

Met_Life_Acturial_Office,_1910

Blogging has been good for us and good to us. Since launching this blog in 2009 we’ve published hundreds of posts, read thousands of comments, engaged in dozens of great conversations and made many new friends. Of course we’ve also been DDoS’d, hacked and spammed, but that’s all part of the rich tapestry of digital life and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

And above the mechanics of blogging, pushing ourselves to write and share our ‘reckonings’ outside the realms of powerpoint and pitch have enabled us to engage with a culture outside the walls of the agency – a rich, exciting world of innovators and instigators, start-ups, pioneers, early adopters and tinkerers. Blogging has helped us learn, process, filter and share and these learnings have been invaluable not just for the individual bloggers, but for the agency as a whole.

But now it’s time to spread our wings and try something new. A few new things in fact. Because today, in late 2015, publishing on the web encompasses a wider, more diverse range of channels than the self-hosted blog and it’s hard to deny that sometime early in the twenty-teens we might have moved past peak-bloggery. There is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the days when blogs ruled the web are gone.

So, this week we are launching our latest experiment, a ‘publishing laboratory’ where we’ll explore some of the new platforms and services that have risen over the past six years. We’ll be creating new content for these channels to actively engage with new audiences, to reinvigorate our publishing and to continue learning through reckoning, sharing and doing.

Of course this blog will remain a key pillar of our web presence and activity — we strongly believe that owning and using a corner of the web that is yours (ours!) is a civic duty — and we’ll be cross publishing to the blog as we go along. But from today, and starting here with Medium, expect to see BBH Labs pop up in some different and hopefully unexpected places on the web.

As always, we appreciate your attention and your thoughtful comments. Thanks for coming on the journey with us.

Joyful and Extraordinary, meet Dismal and Mundane

With it’s gleeful puncturing of the tropes of advertising – a world where families chuckle around the breakfast table and where it is always golden hour – the promo for Banksy’s ‘bemusement park’ might just be the most interesting piece of marketing of the year so far. Given his disdain for advertising and his skill in the dark arts of self promotion, it’s really no surprise that Dismaland manages to be both an interesting spectacle in its own right and a twisted commentary on consumerism and entertainment. Group outing anyone?

But if Weston-Super-Mare is not on your map, the lineup at this year’s dConstruct, with it’s theme of ‘Designing the Future’, looks brilliant. Highlights include ‘paleofuturologist‘ Matt Novack, Dan Hill on very-near-future city making and friendof-Labs John Willshire on ‘metadesign … examined through the contents and context of the most intriguing bedroom in sci-fi’. And, in a (hopefully unforced) segue from Dismaland, Nick Foster of design fiction exponents Near Future Laboratory will be considering ‘the role of the mundane in building the future’. Tickets for dConstruct are available here.

Don’t Discount the Present

Occasionally there’s an piece of writing and thinking so full of interesting, smart, provocative thoughts that my screen is pretty much covered with highlighter.

Highlighting.-It-makes-a-mess-of-your-computer-screen

Web Design – the first 100 years‘, is such a piece. Why not click on the link, have a read, then come back here and let’s have a chat about it, OK? There’s a brief summary at the bottom of this post in case you can’t bear to leave this page.

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You *could* skip the history of aviation if you wanted to, but it’s both fun and interesting, so you might as well read the whole thing.

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Done? Oh you want to reread the bit about the experience of exponential growth leading us to discount the present? Can’t blame you.

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OK, so that was pretty good and interesting, right? Maciej Ceglowski is talking to an audience of web designers, but reading the piece it struck me that much of what he says is just as pertinent to the wider digital marketing community. To whit; our habit of discounting the present in favour of the bleeding edge. Our love of gratuitous change. A tendency to add features to turn an idea from good to great, instead of removing features that might simplify the complex.

Maybe Ceglowski’s boldest assertion is that the web of 2060 will look pretty much the same as the web of today. Arguably, that might be as good news for us digital creatives as Ceglowski says it is for his design audience.

And that’s because a good enough web is a wondrous place for brands to explore and play in. Ceglowski’s preferred vision of the web – (to connect knowledge, people and cats) – already ‘erases distance between people [and brands] and it puts all of human knowledge at our fingertips’. And, of course, it’s all made of cat GIFS. He describes this vision of the Internet as a humble one, saying that ‘on a planet of seven billion people and millions of cats, the chance that you are going to be able to think of all the best ideas is zero.’ For creatives, this should be fine. We don’t need to have all the best ideas – one per brief will do nicely.

The passage that most resonated with me was Ceglowski’s articulation of ‘exponential despair’ – ‘a restless sense of excitement we feel that something new may be just around the corner, bringing with it a hopelessness about whatever we are working on now, and a dread that we are missing out on the next big thing.’

There is always a need to fuel a creative agency with the newest thinking and doing out there on the world wild web. The technologies and behaviours that are shifting the paradigm for us and for our clients. But what I’ve taken from my highlighting of Web Design – the first 100 years is that constantly focussing on the horizon can cause us to wilfully miss the amazing things that are happening, or could be made to happen, right in front of our noses. The right here and the right now is a pretty amazing place to be.

Thanks for reading with me.

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*in case you didn’t read the piece (and more fool you if that’s the case), Ceglowski argues that, like the commercial aviation industry in 1960, the most dramatic transformation in internet technology has already happened. Dazzled by our experience of the last 20 years of exponential growth (Moore’s Law) we design for continued transformation at similar rates and scale. So instead of yearning for a techno-utopian future that might never happen we should accept that the web as it is, connecting knowledge, people and cats’ is both beautiful and good enough and we should enjoy it and not take it for granted.