You’ll see all around this a number of essays about digital disruption, about what’s coming at us, about what the future will be like for us all. But the truth is, we might be a little late: The digital disruption has already occurred. It’s not something we’re planning to confront in the future. We’re all living it now.
When I joined Google back in prehistoric times, in 2004, I used to tout predictions like “By 2020, you could have all content ever created in the palm of your hand.” I would see the people around me look at me like I was crazy.
Which makes some sense. This was the time when maps were folded up in your glove compartment and videos were still on TV. Very few would have predicted that, today, little more than a decade later, more Americans would be spending time with digital than any other medium.
But this is what happens when most of us today carry supercomputers in our pockets that are more powerful than the ones Larry and Sergey used to start Google. This is what happens when billions have access to wireless networks that are more than 20 times faster than what we had back then. Quite simply, as our computers have shrunk, their impact and reach has grown—and grown in ways none of us could have imagined not long ago.
Today, 2.5 billion people are online. It sounds like a lot. But really, that’s a little more than a third of everyone on Earth. By 2025, that number will have more than doubled to nearly 6 billion, or 80 percent of the world’s population, who will primarily connect to the world through mobile devices and digital platforms.
That’s a lot of people whose attention will be trained on the many screens that surround us every day. The key is what will be waiting on those screens when they get there.
Of course, all of this has massive implications for everyone, but it’s our industry that can really define this new age. Today’s savviest digital businesses—media companies, marketers and more—are meeting consumers there, anticipating their needs and engaging them with an immersive experience. They are moving beyond a two-way conversation and into a much richer discourse.
These companies know TV is a static medium, while the Web is dynamic, interactive and participatory. People don’t want to sit back and be force-fed an experience; they want to help create it—on their screens, in their jobs, at home, in the businesses they visit.
So, this is where the next wave of business innovation will come from: a fully immersive, two-way interaction between the consumer and business. Think about this for a second: Anyone can create something that everyone can see. It sounds simple, but it’s actually a profound change in the way people communicate. And it’s something that plays to the strengths of the media and marketing industries.
Before, marketers had one shot to make their flagship spot a hot topic. Now, as major events live in the public consciousness long past when they occur (think of Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos jump and all the subsequent discussions, reposts and mashups), there are many more opportunities to reach audiences.
But with so many options available, it’s even more important now that what you use to reach them can find the right audience, capture their imagination, continue the conversation, keep the momentum and excitement alive.
That’s not an easy task. Adapting, and then thriving, in a new environment is never a snap of the fingers. But as an industry, we stand at an incredible moment in history.
The disruption has happened. The future is here. Now we need to invent what comes next. And it will take the collective imagination and creative energy of all of us to redefine the role of our industry, to rethink the way billions of people interact with the Web and, in turn, with the changing world around them.
Arora oversees all revenue and customer operations as well as marketing and partnerships at Google. Before joining the company in 2004, he was CMO of T-Mobile Europe and earlier was with Deutsche Telekom, Putnam Investments and Fidelity Investments.