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Lions and Language and Geeks [Oh My]

Language is in a state of constant flux, evolving at the edges, occasionally ruptured by dramatic and rapid changes in culture. It contains fossils and fractures that hint at what has been or will be important.

The word "computer" provides a convenient example. The first computers were all female, not in the anthropomorphic sense that boats are, but because they were all women, using slide rules to do calculations before we had "difference engines" [which are what evolved into the computers of today].

Within the communication industry [formerly known as advertising], language is rapidly evolving in response to dramatic changes in the context we operate in.

Job titles are an obvious example.

Over last couple of years new roles for geeks have come into existence within agencies: content strategist, social media something, creative technologist, user experience designers, developers, digital ninjas and chief technology strategists, [ahem] to help us service the growing need to understand and connect to consumers enabled by technology.

The word technology itself is subject to semantic drift. It comes from the Greek technologia: "saying" through "craft." Douglas Adams, author and famous technophile, summed up the recent tension in it well:

"Technology is a word that describes something that doesn't work yet."

In some sense, that's how the word is used in my job title. It doesn't refer to normalized communication technologies, such as writing, or television, but emerging technologies that we don't fully understand yet.

Adams pointed out why this was:

"There's a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented between when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you'll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things."

The "natural order of things" for the communication industry is perhaps best reflected in awards that were handed out last week at the Cannes International Advertising Festival, where the great give Lions to the best of the last year, hinting at their hopes for the future.

The big winners all had technology at their core. Obama won the Grand Prix in the Titanium category—created to celebrate breakthrough ideas that point to a new direction—for a campaign enabled by social media and crowd-sourced participation.

From a more traditional brand, the Whopper Sacrifice, a Facebook application that allowed users to receive a free Whopper for every ten friends they got rid of, also got gold.

The Cyber category is both fossil and prophet [William Gibson's neologism "cyberspace" has long since fallen out of usage].

The winners here included the Fiat Eco-Drive, an interactive tool that pulls data from your car and visualizes it to help you drive more efficiently, and Queensland Tourism's "Best Job in the World," which promoted the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef to the world by advertising a job looking after one. Small recruitment ads drove people to a website where they had to submit a video application—1.4 million people did so.

Perhaps most telling is the Film category, which, unlike Radio and Press, no longer conflates content with delivery platform. Last year, the category was expanded to include "other screens."

This year, for the first time, the Grand Prix was awarded to a film that has never been shown on television. Philips "Carousel" is an interactive Web film that promotes their new cinema-ratio televisions with a single tracking shot through a frozen explosion.

This is film designed for the Web, where attention must be earned, where narrative is no longer entirely linear, where technology, whatever that might mean, is helping us say things in new ways, with new craft.

Read more of Faris Yakob's blog on Fast Company

faris-head Faris is Chief Technology Strategist at McCann-Erickson New York. Before that he was the Digital Ninja at Naked Communications. He writes and speaks about brands, media, communication, and technology. You can find him all over the Internet, but his blog—Talent Imitates, Genius Steals —and twitter @faris are good places to start.