I recently caught up with an old friend and former client who’s steeped in the world of tech startups, digital media and information technology (IT). Neither my friend nor I are coders, but at 50 years+ apiece we can still hold our own when it comes to assessing, articulating and advancing the commercial prospects of the fledgling B-to-B and B-to-C companies we have advised over the years.
We laughedÂ about our experiences at SXSW and other geek festsÂ where our efforts to engage young tech entrepreneurs often were met with skepticism, then quick dismissal: “How could these 50-something wannabes possibly comprehend the bubblicious startup culture in which we so proudly reside?” While we thought: “If only they knew how much they don’t know.”
Days later the names of those who took our business cards invariably popped on our desktops and mobile devices asking to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook, or alerting us that we now have new followers on Twitter, Google+ or Quora.
As if youthful hubris couldn’t get any worse, here was the new issue of New York Magazine featuring “Mike the Ruler” on the cover. The caption read:
“He is 13. He is a fashion giant on Instagram.”
Thirteen, huh??? Â It came with a video titled “Secret Shopping with Mike the Ruler.” Â So tell me, what has Mike reallyÂ accomplished other than rackingÂ up followers on Instagram? Does it merit aÂ cover of New York Magazine for a story titled “The Weird Wide World of Internet Celebrity,” featuring other youthful “superfamous people you’ve never heard of?” (NYMag’s words, not mine.)
A few years ago, I DM’dÂ a tech journalistÂ friend at Business Insider suggesting that the siteÂ produce a round-up (listicle)Â of “50 Over 50 Who Get Tech” to counter the endless and arbitrary 30-under-30 lists that generate so much buzz in their respective industries. This 20-something reporter “absolutely loved” the idea, but couldn’t bring his myopic millennial mind to make it happen. So I thought I would.
Rather than 50 over 50, I found 20Â New Yorkers of a certain age who may not have as many Instagram followers as Mike the Ruler, but whose digitalÂ savvy and career accomplishments hopefully will put in proper perspective the media’s youth obsession.
Featured in alphabetical order (with linked photos) are: John Abell, Brian Bedol, David Carr,Â Brian S. Cohen,Â Esther Dyson,Â Richard Edelman,Â Eric Hippeau,Â Arianna Huffington,Â Ken Lerer,Â Rebecca Lieb, Jeff Jarvis,Â Andrew Rasiej,Â Jim Roberts,Â David Rose,Â Jay Rosen,Â Randall Rothenberg,Â Vivian Schiller,Â Micah Sifry,Â Margaret Sullivan,Â Laurel Touby, Fred Wilson andÂ Dave Winer. (Finally, I welcome hearing about more New York women and people of color so I may more equitably expandÂ the list.)
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An excellent point made well. There is less and less of a “Great Divide” of those with and without deep digital expertise in a media world that is evolving so quickly that no one is ever fully up-to-speed. The rapid pace of innovation keeps everyone on a continuous learning curve. The ages of the individuals listed are irrelevant. It is their experience, their willingness to embrace new ideas and their capacities to grasp the big picture and context — which does not separate “traditional” from “new” media, but rather capitalizes on the lessons and opportunities of both. We are all in a magnificent and maddening whirlwind transition. The keys to success are by no means held only by those for whom digital technology and media are a first and only language.
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