In its broadest definition by Wikipedia, the Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in the early 18th century…that sought to mobilize the power of reason to reform society and advance knowledge. During this period, communications between intellectuals were spread via word of mouth, and in written form via encyclopedias which ultimately helped form public opinions and policies by developing nations, including America.
When you think about it, no other time in history have we experienced such a parallel of intellectual knowledge-sharing than we have in the last decade of growth in social networks. Early entrants such as Friendster, MySpace, Bebo and others blazed a trail for Facebook, which exploded onto the scene and demonstrated the true power of knowledge-sharing that I’d argue is on the scale and magnitude of the early 18th Century. Consider how German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s defined this critical juncture: “Mankind’s final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error.” This powerful language is applicable to today’s modern world. Social networks, mobile devices and our connectivity to one another means we are more informed and empowered than ever before; our ignorance has been emancipated. What an incredible, exciting time to bear witness.
But what’s most exciting to understand is that the Age of Enlightenment led directly to the Industrial Revolution. This is when the power of knowledge and information transformed from reason into action, positively affecting mankind’s entire way of life. The enlightened turned prosperous and, in turn, income and population grew at unprecedented levels.
Even in a down economy, such advancements in today’s social networks and technology lead me to believe we are on the cusp of greatness once again. Consumers are turning enlightened reason into action every day, and companies are finding ways to monetize and grow their businesses in ways they never dreamed possible. As consumers, how we perform transactions has changed, with friends and family influencing our purchases long before the point of transaction. Why? Because we are empowered by our newfound enlightenment.
As more and more businesses begin to identify and interact with their core customers, the age of digital enlightenment will yield to an era of explosive growth and prosperity. Some companies have already figured this out (e.g. Apple’s App store) and are far along on the journey. As more companies transform their enlightened audiences into modern industrialists, we will all be propelled into the new era of a modern industrial revolution. Is your brand ready?
Craig Alperowitz is Group Director, Consumer Brands at WCG