Home > advertising theory, creative thinking, inspiration > The curse of digital knowledge

The curse of digital knowledge

As I said before, I love the Internet. I’ve been working 8 years in digital. I’m curious and I try most things out. Or at least, I make sure I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what it is and how it could be used. I have never been on Second Life but I get the gist of what it is and (how little) brands can do with it.

But, I’m not a geek. I use the Internet to get what I want and shop like most people. I understand the point of twitter but refuse to be on it. Out of work, you’ll rarely find me on it.

This is an important point.

It seems to me that we, as in those who have been in the industry for many years, have become cursed by our own knowledge of the Internet. That we are so immersed in the Internet that we basically forget what it’s like for ‘normal’ people, i.e. those who don’t spend most of their time awake on the Internet.

This is just a thought. It was triggered reading the Mental detox Ian Tait went through; not using a computer, ipod etc. for a week. I was really surprised to see how immersed he was and how difficult it was for him to spend a week without technology (just thought I’d say I do love his blog http://www.crackunit.com)

But let’s go back to the curse of knowledge. A concept from the Heath brothers’ book, Made to stick:

The More You Know, the Worse You Become At Communicating That Knowledge

Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.

Read the rest of the article here.

So here’s a question to all of us working in the digital industry, and I do include myself here. Have we not become so blinded by our love and knowledge of the Internet that we forgot how it is not to be? Are we not guilty of having made a scary online world for non-digital savvy clients?

And are we really developing online strategy and creative that make people want to go to our websites rather than using new technology just because we love it?

We definitely need a solid knowledge of the Internet to make ground-breaking online work, but can we still see the wood for the trees?

Most people use the Internet. But they probably only check a handful of websites, rarely click on ads, don’t visit viral websites and are certainly not on Twitter.

Which reminded me of that quote:

“Even a cursory review of past forecasts reveals that most technological forecasts have been dead wrong. Most of those forecasts fail because the forecasters fall in love with the technology they are based on and ignore the markets the technology is intended to serve and the fundamental needs they sought to satisfy.”

From the book Megamistakes.


  1. May 7, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    My thoughts :o)

    First rule of thumb: Always leave yourselves at the door, we know very little of how “real people” immerse themselves in the internet, and especially when they do it to engage themselves in niche activities we know nothing of. Example: Finding and purchasing parts for large farm equipment :o)

    I find that the more empathetic research we do beforehand, the easier it is to admit to ourselves that we know nothing.

    Secondly, on imaging the future, this is my take on it:

    We too often try to imagine the future based on the current vector we are on, that is, we look straight behind us, and straight in front of us. But true innovation doesn’t come from one vector incrementally changing and certainly turning into something magic, it happens when two unanticipated vectors collide, create friction and a totally new and unanticipated vector emerges.

    Example: TV’s didn’t get bigger, but plasma did. Videophone via your landline phone never happened, but VideoSkype did. Media is not going to change mobile, but i..d is.

    ps. I’m not going to start spamming you with comments, it’s just that these last two posts really struck a chord :o) Excellent thoughts. I recommend Malcolm Gladwell and Clotaire Rapaille on how humans tend to use information as alibi for subconscious decisions.

  2. May 7, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    To be fair, two years ago I had no computer at home and was solely using it at work… This led me to go for an interview for a digital marketing manager role and to reply to the question what is your favourite website: yahoo! As a matter of fact two years ago I had as you said a very utilitarian use of the internet, i.e. a source of information digested for me and a webmail.

    Since, I have acquired a computer and spend probably 12 to 15 hours online. My perimeter has of course been enlarged: flickr, youtube, blogs, streaming sites, etc. have drastically enriched my usage…

    But I agree many webagencies are seeking technological stunts for the sake of it. They are more interested in some kind of visual and develoment masturbation than in a true consumer approach. Should we blame them? From a marketing stand point certainly but from a technological perspective their contribution is just phenomenal: they actively contribute the pushing the barriers of a medium which is still just at its infancy.

    And that leads me to the topic I covered in a post some times ago (http://mountaindwellerviews.blogspot.com/2007/12/from-scapegoat-to-superhero.html): with the internet there has been a massive paradigm shift in the social perception of the technology fans… They pushing barriers and are valued for that. Does that ring a bell? May 68 maybe…

  3. JacobW
    May 8, 2008 at 1:33 am

    This curve is your best friend for thinking about this issue.

  4. JacobW
    May 8, 2008 at 1:34 am

    Pish, ok, image hotlinking doesn’t work.

    this curve

  5. Digicynic
    May 8, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks for the comments guys. Really good stuff.
    I have to find out more about empathic research, it sounds really good.
    Thanks for the curve J, really helpful.
    Cedric, I agree with you but you spend too much time online! ha ha 😉

  6. Estelle
    May 19, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    Hi, Funny I come across your blog. First as a reaction to the end of the post, I really think that the real great thinkers who are not scared of the amount of knowledge they have accumulated will always be able to explain complex matters to even outsiders or people with no related knowledge.
    I have been researching innovative digital campaigns for a few years (not as many years as you) and I still think that the best ideas tend to have simple or at least clear outcomes.
    I watched the Lynxeffect promo movie , and I find that pushing this idea of ‘getting in there’ to such entertaining distance is really cool, and very welcome in the online fmcg landscape. And each idea that is part of it is simple.
    The whole thing is quite dense, gosh there are so many apps and downloads and UGC possibilities. It feels almost like a few could be edited out but maybe I don’t know because I am a girl.
    As for the Mother/Eurostar movie, I really liked your post since I am trying to get my head around that one too. However I feel like looking at it from an advertising point of view only reduces the meaning of it. If you call it a marketing product then I think it passes the test. Beyond product placement, it makes a brand a legitimate co-producer of content.
    But I strive to call it advertising too.

    Lets not start a mundane debate that would bore anyone, even the initiated.

    It’s inspiring to read your blog and profile, I am French and looking for pretty much the same job as yours. Makes me feel proud to read your very articulate thoughts.

  7. Digicynic
    May 21, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Hi Estelle,

    Thanks for your comment and nice words!

    Good luck with your job research. London is a city of opportunities, it shouldn’t be too hard for you.

    All the best, Jerome.

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