What's Old is New

By Ron Rosenberg

emojis

There's an old adage that says, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

I think this is certainly true in the way of personal communications - specifically in the area of smartphones.

These devices  are truly incredible, and are the current-day versions of the science-fiction devices we were introduced to over 50 years ago on Star Trek. We hold access to virtually the sum total of human knowledge in the palm of our hands and have the ability to connect with almost anyone in the world instantly.

Of course, what we do with these capabilities can vary widely. We can check the weather to see if an imminent hurricane will cause our flight to be cancelled; we can check movie schedules and order tickets online; and we can make reservations at a favorite restaurant.

The extensive - and growing - collection of smartphone apps makes it possible to point your phone at the sky and identify a particular star or even the flight number and destination of a plane overhead.

And you can look up any topic at all and get more information than you could possibly process in a lifetime.

What I find curious about all of this is that despite all of the incredible capabilities these devices offer, what most people seem to use them for more than anything else is...you guessed it...texting.

And texting brings with it a serious problem: since the person you're communicating with can't see or hear what you're saying, it's quite possible that your meaning and intent could be misinterpreted.

That's why "emojis" - those cute little smiley-face icons - were invented. But even that wasn't enough - now people don't even bother with the actual words, sending out text messages that are nothing more than strings of emoji icons.

This all seems modern, cutting edge, and very cool.

But if you go back a hundred years or so, the main form of communication over long distances was the telegraph - a device used to send strings of words from one location to another.

Go back a lot further - before we even had the written word, and early cave dwellers communicated with cave painting and petroglyphs - using pictures and images in place of words that didn't yet exist.

So essentially, we have the most advanced communications devices the world has ever seen, with technology and capabilities that were straight science fiction until about 15 years ago, and we use them to communicate as our ancestors did hundreds or even tens of thousands of years ago!

While this is an interesting observation, it does have some powerful implications on how we view marketing in general and trends in particular.

We opened with the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Another thing to consider is this simple concept: what's old is new.

"Vintage" clothing can suddenly become chic and current. Vinyl records that were once considered obsolete and thrown out are now highly sought out and valuable. Comic-book characters from the mid-20th century are starring in modern blockbuster movies.

The message here is that the "next new thing" is not always something you have to invent - sometimes looking back can give you exactly what you need to move forward.

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