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What’s the one thing you’ve learnt this year?

2017: a year of highs, lows, a Royal engagement and some weird cakes. But, it’s not about the facts we’ve learnt, it’s about how we’ve developed and been shaped as people. 44’s Emily New reveals the one (pretty painful) thing that’s changed her perspective on comms this year…

It’s been a year of real extremes. There’ve been some serious lows, with Hurricane Irma, the Manchester Bombing and the Grenfell Tower Fire dominating the headlines. But, springing from this sadness have been some pretty amazing tales of positivity and hope – stories shared on a global stage; shining examples of how love and support can triumph in the face of adversity.

It’s also been a year of smaller, more personal highlights. Those golden, yet individual, moments that sum up 2017 for each person. For me, a few images immediately come to mind:

1) a weirdly life-like sponge cake handbag (#GBBO – back and better than ever);
2) a sea of shocked faces as the wrong Oscar winner was mistakenly announced (Just. So. Awkward);
3) and a sickeningly sparkly Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks (yes, I went there – no, I won’t have one again).

At the heart of all of this – good and bad – sits unrelenting conversation and communication. In September, Twitter extended its character limit to 280 characters to help users ‘more easily express themselves’, while in November we saw Facebook reach more than two billion users. It’s never been easier to learn something new, in record-time, in a variety of different ways – and then instantly be able to have your say and find out what others are saying too.

So, as we approach a new year, I’ve taken some time out to identify the main thing I’ve learnt in 2017 – and it revolves around tech.

“Sometimes it feels like the future is stalking us like prey,” said The Guardian’s Zoe Williams, writing about TV show The Handmaid’s Tale.

But, after taking part in the Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s Virtual Reality (VR) experience back in October, I’d have to disagree. Rather than lamenting a totalitarian digital future like the one in Channel 4’s dystopian thriller, my own digital experience showed me eye-opening possibilities.

I put on my VR headset and was suddenly immersed in an enchanted forest, my head turning to look at my magical surroundings, and my eyes blinking to uncover new objects and sounds. A virtual dragon picked me up and transported me to an icy cave where I created my own melody using different crystals. I saved my melody as an MP4 file and emailed it to myself to listen to at home.

‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘this is going to change things forever, it’s pretty incredible, everyone should see this’ – and then I fell off my chair. The Future is Bright / The Future is Painful.

Despite my VR fail, I’ve learnt this year that when it comes to communication, things are constantly changing. Perhaps next year will see more VR being experienced in real classrooms and workplaces, rather than as part of ‘far-away’ futuristic exhibits.

Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to exploring new developments in communication in 2018 (but perhaps not on the back of a dragon this time).

What have we learnt this year? Team 44, it’s over to you…


… WRITING: “I’ve learnt that it’s all about tone. Always think about how to write for your audience. Every company has a preferred language and culture, and you can really turn people off if you use language in the wrong way.”

Emily Gravenor, Project Manager

… LISTENING: “The biggest thing I’ve learnt this year is a shadow of something my Dad once told me: you have two ears and one mouth – use them in that ratio! Sometimes you can learn a lot more by listening than you can by talking.”

Katie Grace, Editorial Assistant

… PROOFING: “There’s no such thing as the perfect proofreader – everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in what they spot, so get everything checked twice!”

Elizabeth Mullenger, Junior Project Manager

… ROBOT WRITERS: “Every year, technology and computers are becoming more advanced. But should we be concerned about being replaced completely? Thankfully, if you’ve read Harry Potter and the portrait of what looked like a large pile of ash – a bot’s attempt at writing a chapter about everyone’s favourite wizard – you’ll have gathered that we’re still a few years away from computers replacing people when it comes to more creative areas, such as writing (phew!). Having said that, it’s probably the funniest thing I’ve read all year.”

Sarah Woods, Content Specialist

… THE HYPE: “In the advance of technology, people tend to overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term. For example, the shiny new thing (virtual reality, internet of things, electric cars) is instantly hyped up to be the next big thing! So we hear the hype and get a sense that no real progress is being made. Which isn’t true. In 2007, it took £2 billion and 13 years to sequence the first ever DNA genome. Ten years later, it can be done in eight weeks for £3,700. Things really are accelerating faster than ever – it’s not just the hype.”

Tom Ives, Head of Insight and Innovation

… THE DESIGN MIX: “I’ve learnt how to deal with a real variety of design projects since I’ve been here. It’s been exciting to see how new platforms and software are increasingly interweaving with design to allow us to explore new and creative design routes.”

Jess Riley, Designer

… THE BIG IDEA: “You can’t fix a blank page! Sometimes the best approach is to get your best idea on paper and mould it, rather than to wait for the perfect idea to come along.”

Alan Coates, Head of Digital Products and Platforms

… THE UNIVERSE?: “I learnt that some people believe the universe is most probably a massive computer simulation created by an alien species that has evolved to a post-human state: @themonkeycage.”

Eddie Gormley, Managing Partner

What have you learnt from 2017? Let us know – and check out some of the new things we’ve been up to with tech this year too!

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