It is becoming very shallow out there. Kardashian values rule in a tyranny of easy, cheap and highly conspicuous consumption. There is little depth to be found in pretty much any direction. And it is not only in our attitudes and behaviour that shallow seems to rule the day. Our minds are also being rewired by technology to be purposefully shallow, with the use of the digital domain reshaping how we think, live and process the lives we lead, what we value – and ultimately – how we choose to exist individually and collectively. The deep is becoming another country to many of us. But it wasn’t always this way.
Being deep used to be easy. Life was slower. We had time to get deep and connected if we chose to. Yeah. Kick back. Watch clouds. Read a book. But life is accelerating at such a pace that we can barely cling to the sides of our selves any more. Deep, it seems, is a luxury we can increasingly ill afford. That is a pity because there are some deep things out there that we should rummage around in – deep things that could fundamentally change the way in which we live, thrive and survive.
Science and big thinking are shaping new models of health and prosperity, the two big pillars in our concepts of wellbeing and happiness. But our grasp of the benefits keeps becoming lost in science terminology and scary language. Consequently, we half look at topics such as gene sequencing and sustainable living plans and think ‘scary’, or ‘not for me’ or ‘life’s too short – let’s go shopping’.
Recently I have been using shallowness to try to help people access a new and deeper understanding of things that affect their lives and happiness. The celebration and adoption of shallow and emotionally led storytelling more common to the worlds of Pixar, comic books and gaming – the modern equivalents of cautionary tales, Just So Stories, fairy tales and fables – could also enable the deep thinkers to lighten up and the Shallow Hals to find some substance. But the balance and integrity of this approach needs to be carefully managed.
The power of the New Deep lies in two things: firstly, in the ability of its shallows, whether they be memes, characters, slogans, experiences, mantras or manifestos, to elicit emotion before reason. And secondly, it lies in its ability to anchor its shallowness to a deeper substance and integrity of information – the facts and data that underwrite it – without ever breaking its mooring.
Now, just to be clear, when I say shallow I really mean SHALLOW. I mean using sex, gnomes and Princess von Schweetz’s Glitch to explore the vast, and to some, terrifying topic of the human genome. I mean using phrases such as ‘life-sized living’ and ‘smarter, lighter living’ as catch-alls for the staggeringly complex intra-connected and intra-related nature and dependencies of holistic, circular, sustainable systems and societies, and our management of human and material capital within them. I mean using SHALLOW to whatever degree I need in order to make the subjects they allude to something that someone feels something about before they think something about it.
As long as we secure the connection of the feeling to the integrity and substance of the thinking that underwrites it, we can hopefully avoid turning out abstract, pointless and directionless amusements. Dropping a plumb line enables the average person to get from the entertaining, enlightening super-simple and emotionally framed stuff to the deeper, informative, illuminating, wonderfully complex and rationally based facts, data and information in a hop, skip and a dive.
Mine is a kind of three-atmospheres approach to deep exploration. First atmosphere: lightweight, engaging, emotional, sharable and built to make me feel before I think. Imagine paddling in shallow turquoise waters with colourful fish and coral all around you.
Second atmosphere: mid-weight, connecting, thoughtful, explorable and built to make me think about what I feel and to add substance to the lighter framing to open a deeper door for me if I choose. Think snorkelling in turquoise waters and the edge of the reef with an expanse of deeper blue beyond.
Third atmosphere: heavyweight, mining, resourceful, built to offer highly detailed, highly particular functional and utilitarian information, theories, data, networks, communities and links to institutions, experts and publications. Think vast deep blue expanses stretching out in front of you teeming with wonders, wrecks and riches.
This model would enable us to get as many people as possible to dabble in the possibilities of the subject and experience the benefits of it without too much stress, putting them in charge of choosing whether to dive in – to act on them through informed decision-making and behaviour and the tools that facilitate them – or just keep paddling in the shallows. Because it is the new deep, after all.
Julian Borra set up the Thin Air Factory Ltd in 2013, having previously spent 25 years at Saatchi, Leo Burnett and his own agency EBP. As one of Saatchi S’s global leadership team he used creative strategy and storytelling to help Coca-Cola, TUI Global Travel, AT&T, Vestas and Kellogg’s to reconcile, give meaning to and embed their sustainability, CSR and shared value dimensions into their brand story.