Brad Rees is CEO at Mediacells, the digital translation agency.
Who is your digital hero?
They say you should never meet your heroes. I met Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab when I was a rookie newspaper reporter in the nineties at an event. Despite my best efforts to impress him I think the low-alcohol beer he was nursing at the Wired magazine HQ had more of an impact.
I read his book Being Digital when it first came out and it has informed my understanding of the power of the internet ever since. He can communicate the astonishing complexity of digital into simple language, in a way that everyday people can understand.
What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?
Negroponte is a big-scale digital disruptor and as he says in one of his Ted Talks, ‘I have been to the future and back, many times’. In the 1970s he predicted that motion pictures, publishing and computing industries would morph. They have.
In the 80s he advised we should stop thinking of television as television. We have. In the 90s he predicted we would buy books and newspapers straight over the internet. We do. And in the 2000s he said computers are not about computing they are about living. And it all came true, teens for example spend more than seven hours a day on screens watching entertainment.
How has his heroism helped drive digital?
He was one of the founding fathers of digital bible Wired magazine, which pioneered such best practices as listing the email addresses of its authors and contributors, decades before we were able to engage with writers, celebrities and sportsfolk on Twitter and Instagram. He kickstarted the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) third world empowerment program which, ironically, was never futureproofed against smaller, more powerful devices.
However, the $1bn+ project has addressed the question on every pandemic parent’s lips: Can learning happen when there are no schools. The answer is yes. The program brought literacy, learning and connectivity to over 100 million children who currently don’t receive education at a first grade level.
What are the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?
Utilising the power of digital to engage humans in these socially distant times. I consult in sport, mainly football, and the digital challenge has changed. It used to be how to use mobile, social, commerce to make more money but now, because of Covid-19, it is more about connecting fans to clubs or major sporting events, where profit is still a driver but takes back seat to community support and development.
What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?
A tough one for a non-millennial Englishman to extol and I think I am best leaving this for clients to answer. I suppose my everyday superpower is an ability to distil digital noise into clear, concise narratives that empower leaders to make big decisions.
I wish I’d said that when I met Nicholas Negroponte at that Wired event.