Person Of The Year: Hey, It's The Digital You! - InformationWeek
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Patricia Keefe
Patricia Keefe
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Person Of The Year: Hey, It's The Digital You!

No sooner are blogs declared passé, and big business trains its guns on social networking sites, then along comes You, Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2006. Yes, you baby! Or rather we, us, them--the masses as it were, but not just any old masses. For its annual accolade, Time specifically singled ou

No sooner are blogs declared passé, and big business trains its guns on social networking sites, then along comes You, Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2006. Yes, you baby! Or rather we, us, them--the masses as it were, but not just any old masses. For its annual accolade, Time specifically singled out the digital You.And why not? The wired up public has both driven and created some of the most cutting-edge content on the web, while also changing the way content is used and delivered. We're talking blogging, texting, IMing, music downloads, videos, digital photos--even the way in which cell phone services and use have evolved.

And that's exactly what got Time to thinking. The weekly news magazine tries to pick the person or persons each year who have had the greatest impact--for better or worse--on the rest of the world. In choosing You, the magazine lauded us for essentially leveling the digital playing field--and doing it by working together (and often for nothing) on an unprecedented scale. More specifically, the publication cited You "for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game."

The result of all this, is nothing less than not only changing the world, but "changing the way the world changes," according to Lev Grossman, Time's technology writer and book critic.

Hyperbole? I don't think so. Entire industries have grown up around activities that were once the purview of a small number of consumers - often young consumers. In fact, much of the credit for what You have accomplished goes to the digitally savvy younger generations. It's their lust for IM that led to the txtng crze, and the services to exploit and support it on your phones. It's their comfort level with socializing and playing online, that was the harbinger of today's growth in online gaming and the emergence of social networks, which have most recently caught the eye of real world businesses that have decided they need to grab a piece of the virtual action. (The one irony here is that digital You is also a great consumer of "reality" programming. Maybe all that time spent online drives a need to at least see other people interacting face to face.)

Sea changes have occurred in how people communicate, socialize and even view their careers and conduct business. Take the growth of new companies. Increasingly people are opting for entrepreneurship, in many cases made easier or more approachable by a vast array of technology, true, but driven, again, by the digital You, who are perfectly comfortable stitching together the component pieces needed to get up and running, and then conducting business in the cubicle-less ether. Down the road, I can see You helping to refine and drive the use of video conferencing, which has struggled for years to gain traction.

And those changes, taken together, have had a wide-reaching impact.

Take blogs for example. Once seen as boring or babbling online diaries, they have changed the face of politics in this country. They have given the public an unprecedented and new weapon in wielding influence--from saving favorite shows, to demanding certain services, to forcing public apologies or reversals of politic decisions--even to driving media coverage of certain issues and events. Not only do ordinary people with popular, and somewhat popular blogs, make money at it, but marketers and other businesses now pay people to blog about their products and other topics. You can't run for office, put out a publication, or promote a movie, music, event, product or cause without a blog. Many companies now actively encourage blogging, both for internal purposes and for public consumption--chief among these companies, of course, being the high-tech industry.

Your insatiable appetite for connectivity and content on the move has, for example, completely transformed what was once simply used to talk. Oh, it's still used to communicate, but in many different ways in many different forms. Cell phones have become the Swiss Army knife of electronic devices. You can talk, text, photograph, record video, download, watch content, listen to music, track and even pay with your cell phone. We're on the verge of morphing cell phones into electronic wallets and universal GPS devices. What's next? Only You knows.

Sure, the high-tech industry was there to capitalize on these grass roots trends, and of, course, it's high-tech that made much of what You have been doing, doable. But in many cases it was You who saw the potential for turning a particular technology or social norm on its head--or were the ones to experiment with stretching the boundaries.

While discussing You as Time's choice with some family and friends, it was suggested that the magazine copped out by not picking an individual world figure. I disagree. I think its choice for Person of the Year was right on the money. And just think, this is only the beginning for You. So here's to You--for all You've done, and all You'll do in the coming year. We can hardly wait.

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