Tabula Rasa: Onward to the Conceptual Age

At Tabula Rasa NYC we asked a stunning group of innovators, developers and visionaries to consider five questions at a pivotal moment for media and the people who create it:
How does moment of opportunity look?
What has been created in just a few weeks?
What should be created?
What are the challenges?
What problems can we solve?

We saw awe-inspiring work, a renewal of the creative passion that helped launch the Internet and its period of technical, entrepreneurial and societal achievement. Old-school publishers such as Popular Science, Zagat and Thomson Reuters rediscovered their game with sharp-shooting apps aimed at connected audiences. NPR and ESPN enhanced experiences that were already compelling online. There were untethered virtuosos, too, such as Electric Literature, the Ghost in the Machine (under development) collaboration, and soloist Rob Kelley’s BeatPad. We’ll revisit and follow the development of their apps in subsequent posts, examining the qualities that make them successful.

More critically, we saw, heard and felt a renewal of the creative passion that helped launch the Internet, the Web and its culture-bending technical, entrepreneurial and societal achievements. In just four weeks since the launch of Apple’s iPad, a flurry of applications has been released to expand engagement, enhance understanding and extend meaning and utility.

Design-driven innovation from a fresh, creative class of developers has delivered a whole new mind for experiencing a world gone digital — high concept, high touch connections that enable us to cope with our unrelenting craving for transcendence.

Finally, we have devices and a number of very good starts that deliver abundance with an aesthetic imperative, as well as a new and better way of organizing things: the new order or order.

Yet, initial responses to our questions were cautious and meek: It is early. We don’t really know. Where’s the money?

Where’s the money?
As a way out of ingenuity, the last response is the first one cited. “Where’s the money?” is the mantra of the unimaginative. A circular question, it is an excuse for inertia, a business plan for standing still. Again. The question is almost as pathetic as its cousin — the position that we won’t invest in an online or mobile strategy until we are certain it works. Good luck with that one.

We weren’t surprised that some who participated in Tabula Rasa, and some who covered it, could not or would not get their minds around the theme of the event: innovation in the emerging Conceptual Age. Mea culpa, we invited discussion at a where’s-the-money session called Good Apple, Bad Apple / Good Business, Bad Business. Given both the dissension over “paid models” and the noisy discourse surrounding it, the topic is a requirement on the conference circuit. Not even a fresh take could take us out of the weeds.

We thought our friend Merrill Brown, the former Editor-In-Chief of MSNBC who’s been dealing with the issue for a coupla decades and currently promotes a freemium model for publishers (some content free, some paid), summed it up rather well: “Putting up a pay wall does not solve your business problem,” said Brown. “Publishers who think they can put their magazine on an iPad and make a lot of money are making a significant mistake.”

We love surprises … almost as much as provocation. Jeff Jarvis didn’t disappoint. We showed the stunning TIME magazine app — high concept, high touch, and only $4.99 issue. The Buzzmachine turned buzz killer:

“I think the TIME Magazine app is the most sinful piece of shit ever,” said a skeptical Jarvis., “The ego of it was unabashedly awful.” On his blog he writes: “It’s worse than the web: we can’t comment; we can’t remix; we can’t click out; we can’t link in, and they think this is worth $4.99 a week. But the pictures are pretty.”

Josh Quittner, TIME’s editor-at-large and one of the creative forces behind its iPad app, gave it back to Jarvis in a blog post called “And the horse you rode in on.”

“Jarvis, a former Time Inc.-er, can be forgiven for the disgruntled, I-hate-my-ex-wife tone that creeps into his rhetoric, whenever he discusses his former employer. It’s tiresome, dude, and intellectually dishonest given that you’re still stumping for your Google book.” 

Turns out the dispute was not about the money, but a little about the distribution of media bundles, a little about concerns that Apple and its partners are attempting to control the “open” web and kill the link econony (Google), and more than a little about Jarvis and Quittner.

Can we turn the page, please?

The Meaning Model
Enough cautious and meek. We need some bold. Why not look at economic issues with the same creativity and integrity as we do conceptual ones? The current “where’s the money” debate is framed by rules developed for the economies and societies, factories and mass production, of the Industrial Age. Forward-thinking enterprises adapted to the atomization and proliferation of content in the Information Age. Now we enter the Conceptual Age with a universe of creators. The new currency is meaning. Off the top, how many business plans can you conceive for a meaning model? Maybe a hundred for, say, anyone?

From Tabula Rasa, we put that first word on the blank slate: meaning. As we reconsider what it means to be human, we’re discovering new metaphors for storytelling, creating new ways to engage, connecting with a world of friends and information, and designing innovations that will guide our lives and shape our universe on almost any device.

Where’s the money?

We’ll answer the question with a better one: Where’s the love, y’all? We put that one to music (Black-Eyed Peas with Justin Timberlake) and video when we started we this crusade back in ought-three. If you don’t know the answer to “Where’s the Love?” by now, you’ll never get the one that asks “where’s the money.”

This is one of those moments – an important shift in digital culture that will be old news, obvious to everyone, a few years from now. There’s an electrifying crackle in the air as digital creatives, businesses, investors and visionaries collide in a mad dash to define the future around the next big thing. Not even the old masters of the universe can stop it. Their hands are slipping off the controls.

There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I may lead them.

Sorry. Your people are leading the way in this universe.

Journey to the Conceptual Age
It’s not just the iPad, it’s the promise of a more personal, more creative, more fulfilling, more inspiring and more beautiful digital experience. It’s the promise of something more human, more wonderful. It’s bigger than Facebook or Twitter or Apple. It’s the next PC, the next smartphone, the next printing press. It’s all of that – in a simple, mobile shiny-new-thing powered by something entirely new to media: human touch. Gigs and hard drives fade into the cloud, replaced by pictures and words and shapes and sounds we can mold like clay. That’s magic. The result isn’t merely something hard and shiny that resembles a notepad. It’s something old, deep and rare: pure joy.

Over the next weeks we’ll continue our journey to the Conceptual Age. We’ll stop at the guideposts along the way, showcasing innovative examples of work defining the creative moment. We’ll conduct activities that show where the moment is leading. And we’ll identify the qualities of design-driven innovation that will determine who flourishes and who flounders.

To get started, we have five questions ….

You may also like